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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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