14 March 2010

Danah Boyd: privacy depends on context

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“We’ve been looking at privacy and publicity as a black-or-white attribute for content, when really it’s defined by context and the implications of what we’ve chosen to share.”

This is the essence of Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd‘s keynote speech at SXSW Interactive. And here is Danah’s write-out of the talk.

Here are a few of the reviews, from which I have distilled some telling quotes:


“Boyd says that privacy is not dead, but that a big part of our notion of privacy relates to maintaining control over our content, and that when we don’t have control, we feel that our privacy has been violated. This has happened a few times recently. […]

To help underscore her points, she recalled and discussed a number of major privacy blunders from Facebook and Google. […]

Boyd then transitioned to talk a bit about the fuzzy lines between what is public and private. She says that just because people put material in public places doesn’t mean it was meant to be aggregated. And just because something is publicly accessible doesn’t mean people want it to be publicized.”

CNET News:

“For Boyd, her years of research have been eye-opening into the divergence between what users want–and their emergent behavior–and the ways tech companies interpret those desires. “Often,” she said, “companies trying to build efficiencies into their systems profoundly misunderstand what they’re trying to be efficient about.” […]

“There’s a big difference between publicly available data and publicized data,” she said, “and I worry about this publication process, and who will be caught in the crossfire.”

“We are going to see a continued emergence of new tools that complicate the boundaries between the public and the private, and technology will continue to make a mess of it.”

“Ultimately, then, for the people who build these systems,” Boyd said, “it is imperative that they ask questions about what people really want and what people want to achieve.”

“For marketers, it’s essential to remember that the accessibility of people’s information online doesn’t necessarily indicate that they want to be seen by you. Just because you can interpret people,” Boyd said, “doesn’t mean you’re going to get it right. Just because you see something doesn’t mean you know what’s going on.”

And to the systems designers on hand for her keynote, Boyd had one final message: “As designers, you need to think through the implications and ethics of what you’re doing,” she said. “You are shaping the future. How you handle those challenges will shape the future.”

More reviews in The New York Times and the Daily Telegraph (including the delightful quote: “Making something that is public more public is a violation of privacy.”)

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