“Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity”

Filed in: Identity, Safety, Social Media

Filed by Sarah Jackson

danah boyd

3.22.10 | Researcher danah boyd gave an interesting talk at the South by Southwest festival, addressing the balance between privacy and publicity, which she argues are not binary.

“Just because something is publicly accessible does not mean that people want it to be publicized,” said boyd, who works for Microsoft Research New England. “Making something that is public more public is a violation of privacy.”

Liz Gannes, writing at GigaOM, has a good write-up of the talk: “boyd called out Google and Facebook for being cavalier with their users’ personal information by repurposing that which users intended for a smaller audience, implementing opt-out services that are public by default and changing settings without adequately informing users.”

boyd argues that by making something that is already public “more public” technology companies are violating users’ privacy.

Gannes continues: “By ‘making more public,’ she meant aggregating users’ updates and making them searchable, as well as repurposing users’ information in a way they didn’t originally intend.”

This distinction is particularly interesting for teens, who boyd says often “focus on all they have to gain when entering public spaces while adults are thinking about all they have to lose.”

boyd says that teens “don’t always make material publicly accessible because they want the world to see it.” boyd quoted 17-year-old Bly Lauritano-Warner:

My mom always uses the excuse about the internet being “public” when she defends herself. It’s not like I do anything to be ashamed of, but a girl needs her privacy. I do online journals so I can communicate with my friends. Not so my mother could catch up on the latest gossip of my life.

Young people, boyd says, often complain about parents or teachers “thinking that they have the right to look just because it is possible to be seen.”

Additionally, writing at DMLcentral last week, boyd argues that in order to protect kids, adults have “slowly eroded teens’ access to many public spaces, especially those public spaces in which teens might encounter people who aren’t like them.”

This is a shame, writes boyd, because the teens end up missing out on learning opportunities.

boyd says that without ignoring the real risks for kids online, educators and parents need to also recognize the learning opportunities the internet provides for interacting with all different kinds of people with diverse life experiences. Teenagers also need to push boundaries and take risks in order to learn. [See Spotlight’s coverage of a recent talk by Sonia Livingstone on learning and risk taking.]

“We’ve found time and again that many teens are intrigued by publics that make them uncomfortable, are curious to know about a world broader than the world in which they live, and are driven by opportunities to engage in risk,” said boyd.

boyd argues that instead of panicking, adults need to start the “conversation about how to enable and support teen engagement in public life.”

Plus: If you have something to say about being safe and smart online, Trend Micro is inviting internet users ages 13 and up to submit original videos. Users are eligible to win up to $10,000. Any original videos “from a serious confessional, to an educational PSA to a hilarious re-enactment” are eligible. The deadline is April 30.

Content must be on one of four Internet safety topics: 1.) Keeping a good rep online; 2.) Staying clear of unwanted contact; 3.) Accessing (legal) content that’s age-appropriate; and 4.) Keeping the cybercriminals out.

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