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December 6, 2011

[berkman] Jeff Jarvis on Publicness

Jeff Jarvis is giving a lunch time talk about his new book, Public Parts. He says he’s interested in preserving the Net as an open space. Privacy and publicness depend on each other. Privacy needs protection, he says, but we are becoming so over-protective that we are in danger of losing the benefits of publicness. (He apologizes for the term “publicness” but did not want to use the marketing term “publicity.”)

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He begins with a history of privacy. In 1890, Brandeis wrote an article about privacy, in response to the rise of Kodak cameras. The NYT wrote about “fiendish Kodakers lying in wait.” Teddy Roosevelt banned photo-taking in public parks. Technology seems often to raise privacy concerns. After Gutenberg some authors did not want their name associated with works. Some say that privacy arose in Britain as a result of the creation of the back stairs. As tech advances, we need to find new norms. Instead, we tend to legislate to try to maintain the status quo.

Now for publicness, he begins by referring to Habermas: the public sphere arose in the 18th C in coffee houses and salon as a counterweight to the power of governments. But, Canadian researchers began The Making Publics Project that concluded that people had the tools for making publics before the 18th C. E.g., printed music, art, etc. all enabled the creation of publics. When a portrait of a Dutch gentleman was shown in Venice, if a Dutch man showed up, he looked like “them,” which helped define the Venetians as “us” (for example).

Mass media made us into a mass. It pretended to speak for us. Online, though, we can each make a public. E.g., Occupy Wall Street, and before that Arab Spring. He recounts tweeting angrily, and after a few glasses of wine, “Fuck you Washington! It’s our money.” Someone suggested to him that there were these new things called “hashtags,” and that this one should be #FUwashington. 110,000 tweets later, the hashtag had become a platform. “People viewed in this empty vessel what they wanted to.” Indeed, the first recorded use of #occupywallstreet was in a tweet that consisted of: “#fuwashington #occupywallstreet.” [Note: It might be #OWS.] Now the public is a network.

We’re going through a huge transition, he says. He refers to the Gutenberg Parenthesis. Before Gutenberg, knowledge was passed around, person to person. It was meant to honor and preserve ancient knowledge. After Gutenberg, knowledge became linear. There are beginnings and ends and boxes around things. It’s about product. There’s a clear sense of ownership. It honors current knowledge and its authors. Then you get to the other side of the parenthesis, and there are similarities. More passing it around, more remixing, less sense of ownership. The knowledge we revere starts to become the network itself. Our cognition of the world changes. The CTO of the Veterans Admin calls the Internet the Eighth Continent. “I used to think of the Internet as a medium,” but now he thinks of it more as a place, although there are problems with the place metaphor. (“All metaphors are wrong,” interjects Doc Searls. “That’s why they work.”) It was a hard transition into the parenthesis, and it’ll be hard coming out of it. It took 50 years after Gutenberg for books to come into their own, and 100 years to recognize the impact of books. We’re still looking at the Net using our the past as our analog.

To talk about publicness, Jeff had to go through “the gauntlet of privacy.” He looked for a good definition of privacy. Control is part of it, but “privacy” is an empty vessel itself. “I came to believe that privacy should be seen as an ethic.” It’s about the responsibility for making ethical decisions about sharing it. People and companies have different responsibilities here, of course. “There should be an ethic that people should be able to know who has access to their information. And it should be portable.” He gives a shout out to Doc Searls’ projectVRM.

If privacy is an ethic of knowing, publicness is an ethic of sharing. Not everything should be shared, of course, but there’s a generosity of sharing that should have us thinking about how sharing can benefit us. “I shared info about my prostate cancer on line, which means I was sharing information about my non-functioning penis. Why would I do that?” He has friends who learned of this because he was public, and some who shared with them great information about what he was about to go through. One guy started out under a pseudonym but then started using his real name. A woman told her story about how her husband died needlessly. Jeff refers to Xeni Jardin‘s posting of her mammogram and how this will likely save some lives. [Xeni, we are all thinking about you! And love you!]

“I am not utopian,” Jeff says, “because I’m not predicting a better world.” But we should be imagining the best that can happen, as well as the worst. There are many benefits to publicness. Bringing trust. Improving relationships. It enables collaboration. It disarms the notion of the stranger. It disarms stigmas: coming outside the closet disarms the old stigma (although, Jeff adds, no one should be forced out of a closet). Gov’t is too often secret by default, and that should be switched; the same is not true for individuals where the default should always be a choice. We should make it clear that the Internet is a shitty place to put secrets. Facebook has made mistakes about privacy, but 800M have joined because they want to share. Zuckerberg believes he is not changing but enabling human nature. By nature we want to share.

Jeff got accused by someone of “over-sharing” which he finds an odd phrase. It means “shut up.” The guy does not have to follow Jeff or read his blog. “I wasn’t over-sharing. He was over-listening.”

Companies should share more because it opens up the ability to collaborate. In What Would Google Do? Jeff speculated about a company that might design cars collaboratively. Many scoffed. But Local Motors is now doing it.

When Google pulled out of China, they did the right thing, he says. But can we expect companies to protect the Internet? Nah. Google did a devil’s deal with Verizon. Gov’t also can’t protect the Net. Jeff went to the E-G8 where he asked Sarkozy to take a Hippocratic Oath “to first do no harm.” Sarkozy replied that it’s not harm to protect your children. There are unintended consequences, e.g., danah boyd’s study of the consequence of COPPA. More than half of the 12 yr olds had Facebook pages, most of which had been created with the help of parents, violating the terms of use. Thus, COPPA is requiring families to lie. COPPA has resulted in young people being the worst served segment on the Net because it’s too risky to build a kid site. We need to protect our children, but we also have to protect the Net.

So, who has to protect the Net? We do. The people of the Net. Jeff went back to the Sullivan Principles (while noting that he’s not equating YouTube censorship with Apartheid) about corporate responsibility when dealing with South Africa. We need a discussion of such principles for doing business on the Net. The discussion will never end, he says, but it gives us something to point at. His own principles, he says, are wrong, but they are: 1. You have a right to connect. (Not that you have a right to demand a connection, but you can’t be disconnected.) 2. Privacy as an ethic of knowing and publicness as an ethic of sharing. 3. What’s public is a public good. The Germans allow citizens to demand Google pixelate Street View, resulting in a degradation of a useful tool. Google is taking pictures of public places in public views. Illinois and MA do not allow you to audio record police officers. Reducing what’s public reduces the value of the public. What are the principles at work here? 4. Institution’s info should become public by default. 5. Net neutrality. 6. The Net must remain open and distributed. “The fact that no one has sovereignity is what makes the Net the Net.”

“I am not a technodeterminist,” he says. “We are a point of choice. We need to maintain our choices. If we don’t protect them, companies and well-meaning and ill-meaning companies will take away those choices.” He points to Berkman as a leading institute for this. “I don’t blame Sarkozy for holding the event. I blame us for not holding our own event, the WE-G8, because it is our Internet.”

Jeff now does The Oprah.

Q: How about Google Plus requiring real names?
A: Anonymity has its place on line. So do pseudonyms. They protect the vulnerable. But I understand that real names improves he discourse. I get the motivation, but they screwed it up. They were far too literal in what someone’s identity is. I think Google knows this now. They’re struggling with a principle and a system. I do understand trying to avoid having the place overrun by fake identities and spam.

Q: German Street View is really about scale. It’s one thing for someone to take a picture of your house. It’s another for Google to send a car to drive down every street and post the pictures for the world. For some people it crosses the ethics of privacy. Why isn’t that a valid choice?
A: But it’s a public view. If you own the building, do you own the view of it? But you’re right about scale. But we need to protect the principle that what is public is the public good.

Q: We have a vacation rental. Any bad guy can use Street View to see if it’s worth robbing.
A: Riverhead LI used Google Earth to look for pools in backyards that had no permits. People were in an uproar. But it could also save children’s lives.

Q: [me] Norms are not the same as ethics. Can you talk about the difference? To what extent should privacy as an ethic of knowing be a norm? Etc.
A: Privacy as an ethic should inform the norms. I’ve been talking about my desire for a return of the busy signal… [missed a bit of this.]

Q: What about the ethics of having info shared for you? As people post photos of each other, enormous amounts of info will be shared…
A: We’re trying to adjust to this as a society. Currently, FB tells me if I’m tagged in a photo and lets me say no. It’s wrong if someone tricks you out of info, or violates a presumed confidence. Tyler Clemente who committed suicide after a picture of him was posted…the failure was human, not the technology’s.
A: Why don’t we share all of our health? We’d get more support. We’d have more data that might help. But health insurance would misuse it. Job applicants being disqualified? We could regulate against this. The real reason is stigma. “In this day and age, for anyone to be ashamed of sickness is pathetic.” The fact that we can use illness against people says more about our society.
A: Part of your message is that publicness is our best weapon against stigma.

Q: [espen andersen, who also blogged this talk] In Norway the gov’t publishes how much money people make. That arose when you had to go down to City Hall to get the info. Now there are FB mashups. So what about info that’s used for unintended purposes? And how about the Data Storage Directive that in Europe requires the storage of data “just in case.”
A: Helen Nissenbaum says the key to privacy is context. But it’s hard to know what the context is in many cases. Apparently Norway is rethinking its policy. But there was a cultural benefit that it’d be a shame to lose. Google threatened to pull Gmail out of Germany because of the data storage requirements. Why in the US does email have less protection than mail.
Q: I’m a member of the group suing the Norwegian govt on the grounds that that law is unconstitituional. But no one ever sets targets.

Q: Public by default, private by necessity: Yes. Where’s the low-hanging fruit for universities?
A: Lessig reminds us that if we only use govt data to get the bastards, govt will see openness as an enemy. We need also to be showing the positive benefit of open data. Universities will be in the next wave of disruption of the Net. Around the world, how many instructors write a lecture about capillary action, and how many of them are crap? The fact that you have Open Course lets you find the best lectures in the world. You can find and reward the best. Local education becomes more like tutoring. Why should students and teachers be stuck with one another? I’m reading DIY U and it’s wonderful. It’ll change because of the economics of education.

A: [I had trouble hearing this long question. He recommended going back to Irving Goffman, and pointed out that Net publicness is different if you’re famous.]
A: You’re talking about what a public is. We have thought that the public mean everyone. But now we can create limited publics around things. (Jeff points to a problem with circles in G+ : People think they create private spheres, but they don’t.) FB confused a public with the public; when it changed the defaults, people thought they were talking to a public but were in fact talking to the public.

Q: [me] Norms of privacy help define publics. Are you arguing for a single norm? Why not? [this was my question and I actually asked it much worse than this.]
A: I’m arguing for choice.
Q: Are Americans wrong for being modest in saunas?
A: Nope. [I’ve done a terrible job of capturing this.]

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July 16, 2011

The social and the public

It seems to me that what’s new about Circles (and Twitter’s “Follows” structure) is the weird way they mix the social and the public.

Google Circles are unlike a bunch of people sitting around in a circle talking about stuff, because G Circles are asymmetric: That I’m in your Circle does not mean that you’re in mine. So, when I post to my Circle, it has elements of the social (symmetric communication, the possibility of back-and-forth conversation, and the implication of a continuing relationship) but it also has elements of the public (asymmetric communication, more difficulty engaging in a back-and-forth because of scaling issues, and no implication of a continuing relation).

What are prior analogues of this weird intermingling of the social and the public? We could always be social, and we could always be public (to one degree or another). The casual and often unnoticed mingling of the two seems to me to be genuinely new.

(This expands on my comment to Robert Paterson’s post at Google Plus.)

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June 10, 2011

[hyperpublic] Herbert Burkert

Herbert of Burkert of U ofSt. Gallen is giving a talk. He claims to be ill at ease because he’s a lawyer talking about art, but I’m betting his unease is misplaced :) [Note after the talk: Yup, it was totally misplaced. Delightful talk.]

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He will structure his comments around two people. 1. John Peter Willebrand (1719-1786). He wrote “the outline of a beautiful city,” rules for “enhancing social happiness in cities.” He tried to coerce people into beauty. Design talk and architecture talk are dangerous, says Herbert. E.g., Le Courbousier designed how people should live. Idealists and Totalitarians do this. Contemporary designers have a more benevolent tone. So, Herbert’s first criterion: Are you actually designing for people? For example, are you imposing your idea of privacy or theirs? And are yo sure that their privacy is everybody’s privacy? How much space opportunities for people to develop and live their own lives to you give to others.

The second person: Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992). She was an Italian architect once charged with turning a factory ground into a recreational area in Sao Paolo. What she built challenged ideas about the relation of work and recreation. The windows look like holes blown into a prison wall. From this Herbert infers that designers should be giving opportunities for social gathering, for cross-generational communication, cross-cultural communication, for variety, and for protected openness. The relation between private and public is a continuum. Is the low wall between seating areas a metaphor for scaled privacy, or should we just give up on the metaphors, at least not from architecture, because we fail to grasp the essence of electronic communication.

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[hyperpublic] First panel: Delineating public and private

First panel at HyperPublic conf. Hurriedly typed and not re-read.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Paul Dourish: Think of privacy not so much as something that people have, but something that people do. “What are people doing when they are doing public, or doing private?” Think of doing privacy as one of the ways of engaging with a group.

And pay attention to the multiple publics we deal with when encountering media objects. When we encounter a media object we think “this is aimed at people like me.” Publics = complicated sameness and difference. For example, for a couple of years, he looked at paroled sex offenders in California who are being tracked with GPS. How do you think about space if you have to first worry about coming with 2,000 feet of a school, library, etc.? That reconfigures the scale at which public space is encountered: since it’s impossible to navigate at a level of 2,000 feet, these people think about which towns are safe for them. Instead of privacy, it helps to think in terms of our accountability to others.

Jonathan Zittrain suggests an iphone app that shows up map routes that take account of the sex offenders’ rule of avoiding schools, etc. He also raises the relation of privacy and identity.

Laurent Stalder mentions work on what privacy meant within a house in the 1880s in England. Artifacts were introduced that affected privacy, from sliding doors to doorbells. Then he shows a 2008 floor plan that distinguishes much less between public and private, inside and outside — the rise of a differentiated set of threshold devices. What is the role of the architect when spaces are filled with an endless stream of people, information, fluids…? Laurent points to the continual renegotiation of borders and their consistency. [I had trouble hearing some of the talk; the room does not have good acoustics. Nor do my ears.] In converation with JZ, Larent contrasts two Harvard buildings, one of which has a clear inside and outside, and another that has a long transitional state.

John Palfrey says that lawyers are so engaged in the question of privacy because they too are designers, but of rule-sets. Lawyers have not done a great job in determining which rule-set about privacy will enable us to thrive. He makes three points: 1. The importance of human experience in these spaces. We are public by default, he says, crediting danah boyd. We’re learning that though we often trade convenience for control, we care about in particular contexts, a changing set of practices. 2. The old tools haven’t worked well for us with privacy. E.g., the 4th Amendment doesn’t fit the cyber world well. 3. The systems that tend to work best are highly interoperable wit one another; we don’t want to type in the same info into multple systems. Open, interoperable systems succeed. But that gives rise to privacy problems. We need places — breakwalls — where the data can be either slowed or stopped.

JZ points out that JP is, like Laurent, talking about having long thresholds.

JZ imagines a world in which many people “lifestream” their lives and we are able to do a query to see who was where at just about any time. That makes Google StreetView’s photo-ing of houses seem like nothing, he says.

In response to Jeff Jarvis’ question, Paul reminds us that the social takes up the architectural, so that the same threshold space (or any space) can take on different privacy norms for different cultures and sub-cultures.

JZ: Architectural spaces last for decades or centuries. Online spaces can be reconfigured easily. The “house” your moved into can be turned into something different by the site’s owners. E.g., Facebook tinkers with the space you use by changing

Q: What is the purpose of the threshold?
Laurent: Connection and separation
Q: Don’t we want some type of digital threshold that does the job of introducing, transitioning, informing, introducing, etc. “You keep some of where you were in where you are.” The lack of that affects identity and more.
JZ: You can imagine a web site that shows you where other people are visiting from. “Wow, a lot of folks are coming from AOL. This must not be a cool site.” :)
Paul: It’s important to historicize sites appropriately so we understand where they came from.

Me: It’s possible to misuse architectural spaces, because architecture is always intensely local. So, will privacy norms ever settle down in the global Web?
Invention of the chimney enabled privacy in homes, as opposed to central fire. [Having trouble hearing] Will the poor not have Internet privacy, while the affluent do?
As important as the Net spaces are the spaces in which people use the Net. E.g., Net cafes in the developing world. Access and capital change publicness and privacy.
Paul: In China, people go to public spaces to play online games. (He says that they consider World of Warcraft as a Chinese game in its values.) There certainly won’t be global agreements about privacy norms. Nor does there have to be, because your encounters wit hthem always occur in local settings.
JZ: And within these spaces can be communities their own norms.

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[hyperpublic] Judith Donath

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Urs Gasser opens the conference by reflecting on the recent Swiss court decision that Google StreetView has to go to extraordinary lengths to obscure personal identifiers (like faces and racial identity), especially in front of “sensitive” public areas.

Judith Donath points to our increased discomfort with the new lines between public and private, while in an environment where it’s not only hard to separate them, but where the old well-defined norms don’t work. This is not solely a problem of the online world, she points out. How do we understand this new public as designers? In the online world, you can be public while sitting alone in your room.

She says she was one of the initiators of this interdisciplinary conference (also: Jeff Huang) because different fields have different ideas of what is desirable. E.g., lawyers traditionally think that privacy is a goal in itself.

Judith says we’re looking at this topic at a time in human history when we’ve had an almost unprecedented amount of privacy; e.g., we are more mobile and thus can shed our prior public selves. We have also been more isolated and alienated: we can live without engaging with others, in a city of strangers, in a workplace where all our ties are weak, etc.

She reminds us that during the day we should be thinking about how what we learn can be applied to help build a better civil society.

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August 14, 2010

Jeff Jarvis and the two axes of privacy

Jeff Jarvis has an excellent, provocative post about the topic of the book he’s writing: the economics of publicness. (I’m paraphrasing. Read his post to get it right.) I replied in his comments. The following is a modified version of that comment:

Your post makes me wonder about two axes of public-private. (Thank goodness there was only one axis of evil, because “two axes of evil” sounds extra special scary! But I digress.)

The private-public axis used to measure how well-known we are: Marilyn Monroe was a public figure but most of us are private citizens. That used to be pretty easy to compute and, because of the nature of the broadcast medium, it used to tend toward one extreme or another: He’s Chevy Chase and you’re not. You make the important point that it’s not that simple any more.

But there’s another private-public axis: who we really are and how we look to others. We have tended to believe, at least in the West, that our true self is the inner self. The outer, public self may or may not reflect our inner, private self, and we have an entire moral/normative vocabulary to talk about the relation of the two: sincerity, authenticity, integrity, honesty…

So, I wonder about — what I really mean is that I hope your book will help us understand — the relation of these two axes. Is the rise of publicness (in your sense of social publicness) getting us to change our sense that our private self (call it our psychological sense) is our real self?

In this regard, I also wonder about the rise of “authenticity.” I’ve gotten more suspicious of the term over the past decade, and wonder if it shows up more and more because of a sense that the new publicness doesn’t fit with the old axis 2? That is, we’ve entered a new Age of Publicness (in the new social sense), but then we worry that we’re losing the deeply-held values of the old psychological/normative model, so we go back to “authenticity” as a way of holding on to the old norm in the new model.

Well, all I can say is that I’m glad you’re writing this book!

By the way, I’m pretty sure I wrote something about this in Small Pieces Loosely Joined. I wonder if I still agree with myself. I suspect not, especially on the issue of authenticity.

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