Law in the Internet Society
Not yet ready for review. Quite a bit from it!

Lessons from the Fireside: Synthesizing the Journey Thus Far

-- By BrianS - 02 Dec 2009

Introduction, or, Something private this way comes

We are by now well-acquainted with the exclamation that privacy is dead. In the days of yore, we are told, there was secrecy, and the secrecy was good. But the digital age promised us the greatest conveniences, services customized to our every desire, if we would simply help the vendors remember a bit about us. The stories of the sacrifice of privacy on the altar of technological advancement are now legion. And so, they say, privacy is dead.

The truth of the matter, however, is much darker, and the profession that privacy is dead or lost is only half true. The claim that we have "lost" our privacy suggests a sort of invasion of our secret places, shadowed eyes peering into our bedrooms, probing mentalists looking into our thoughts themselves. In sum, the suggestion that privacy is lost portrays an active intrusion by another that we are blameless for. The claim that privacy is dead suggests that it is gone and that we therefore have no concept of it in our lives. But neither is what has actually occurred.

To the contrary, we have not stopped understanding what privacy is, nor have we stopped thinking that some things are private. We retain a sense that there are matters that are ours only to tell, our secrets to hold, our nakedness to conceal. Technology does not peer into our innermost sanctum, it is we who spill our darkest secrets to technology. Technology does not read our minds or peep into our windows, we instead freely confess exactly what we are thinking, why we are thinking it, and to whom we are telling it to. We do so in real time. Privacy has not been lost, it has been given; privacy has not died, we have made it into a fully-living monster. This is the New Privacy.

The New Privacy is a clever beast with many silver-tongued maws. The Privacy tells us that no matter what we might think is personal, we must still blog about that party last weekend. The creature boldly professes that it values our secrets, but that it truly must possess them so that it can be a better companion; TWikiGuest, don't you want to be friends?

In sum, the New Privacy has convinced us to disrobe in public without discarding our fear of nakedness.

Like any good creature of nightmare, we do not fully understand the New Privacy's power; we have difficulty pinning down its harms. Because the Privacy operates in shadow and mist, we cannot clearly perceive where it might next strike. And because we have allowed the beast's tendrils to so embrace our lives, the monster now surrounds us on all sides. In the light of day it beckons us to adhere to its wishes, and even in slumber the monster's dreams have power.

Indeed, the monster draws strength from all that we do. From the heavy metal armor that we clothe ourselves in to the taverns in which we gather; from the vessels we travel the virtual seas upon to the parchment we use to exchange letters. From each of these, the creature strengthens.

But not all of the villagers are without ears to hear; after whispered tales from those who have seen the beast, some have found their torches and blades. They have set out in isolation and with entourage. There is disagreement about how the beast should be met: should we capture and cage it, or should we slay it directly? Once captured, may others gaze upon it, despite the dangers, or should we banish it completely? Some have called these villagers fools; others would be glad to travel with them. And so we come to the question of which am I.

Conclusion, or, the Way Home

Who am I to spin this tale, what is my claim to knowledge? I have none, for never have I have met the creature face to faces and the harms it has dealt to me are as of yet few. But I have listened at the fireside, late into the evening, enough to know that something moves in the darkness. I have seen enough marks in the dirt to know of the thing's measure, and to know that it is growing. I am now one who is searching for his pitchfork in the night, and I tell this story to you because I fear to dwell in darkness alone.

How then, traveler, could we advance? What can we hope to do when we are only coming to wisdom so far down the path? The answer, I suggest, begins where all nightmares end: we must wake up. The power of the monster is its secrecy, for if it is as terrible as we claim how long would the villagers let it live once dragged into the light of day? Until the monster is revealed, we will fight it alone. For no one fears the terror not yet unmasked.

The New Privacy is not a creature of myth, however, and sunlight alone will not dispatch it. We will require other tools as well. The monster is part of us, and many welcome its influence; I therefore reject the full murder of the beast, for to do so would be to deny the freedom of choice and thereby sacrifice part of ourselves. Still, like anything with potential to do great harm, we must limit the monster's reach. We must require it to reveal its purposes whenever it seeks to deal with us. We must require those disclosures to strike the difficult balance between entirety, brevity, and clarity. We cannot pretend that balance is easily found. But if we are to both respect the choices of those who would freely deal with the monster and yet wholly accept that those dealings are dangerous, that balance is the only viable option of which I know. And if you insist, fellow traveler, that there are better options that I have not encountered, better ways to resolve the mess that we are now within?

Well, TWikiGuest, then you see why I am so eager to have you along.

References to Integrate:

"Like the oleander, however, the beauty is the danger. ... In effect, every consumer is like a wanderer lost in the desert, and data mining allows corporations to know the exact moment when he is so overcome by thirst that he will pay any price for a drink of water." (Brad's paper on data mining)

Brett's paper on opt-in for data mining

Dana's paper on Facebook dreaming

Gavin's paper on GoogleStreet and Privacy

Heather's paper on Facebook and minors

Jacobus's paper on Google and data-aggregation as a problem

the real power lies in us (Juvaria's paper on privacy, Google remembering everything, and )

Kamel's paper on right to oblivion for the deceased

Makalika's paper on Facebook ads and suggesting using nonprofits (soon after creating a Facebook event titled “baby shower,” the ads served to my profile page included titles like “Are you a game-loving mom?” and “Win Disney on Ice Tickets!”)

Scott's paper on, e.g., CCTV and privacy invasions in the US and particularly abroad

Seth's paper on the Google Voice privacy policy

YuShi's paper on apathy and paranoia responses to privacy concerns (people do not truly have a precise understanding of what the threat is)(This creates an almost mythical kind of fear, an amorphous fear that is always lurking, but one that can be dismissed as easily as it can be sensationalized)

# * Set ALLOWTOPICVIEW = TWikiAdminGroup, BrianS



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r3 - 03 Dec 2009 - 09:27:12 - BrianS
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