The End of Privacy: Transparent Humans, Courtesy of Social Media

January 27, 2008 at 1:14 pm | Posted in Culture, Internet | 1 Comment
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This was a 45-minutes discussion which I hosted at the 4th Barcamp in Vienna. Here is my translation of the summary posted on the Wiki of Barcamp Vienna (where it’s probably going to evolve).

The starting point of the discussion was the observation that the readiness of users to publish information about themselves on the internet has clearly increased over the last years: While web 1.0 communities often struggled with the problem that users – after signing up – were too reluctant to publish their information on their profile (thus limiting opportunities for further social rapport), the same users are now volubly feeding platforms like Facebook/Studivz, Twitter, Xing etc. with their personal information – real names, office addresses, documented conversations with others (e.g. Wall-to-Wall), current place of residence, party photos, etc. The scenario is complemented by services like spock.com, 123people.com or 30boxes.com which allow for the aggregation of information in one place, needing no more than a name or an email address. Anyone can place a request.

The main trajectories of the discussion:

_Discrepancy between immediate user experience and technological consequences: The type of information that is communicated via social media corresponds roughly to that communicated in small talk, in face to face conversations. What we do not take into consideration, however, is that this very information can now a) be stored b) be brought together. By means of this aggregated information much more can be be found out than we believe to have revealed.

_The lack of historicity in digital media: Digitally stored items exist in a permanent present – and that applies also to our digital traces on the net. Old curricula vitae, the little sins of our youth, previous communications are forever returning, over and over again, the fading away of information and recollections which is characteristic of non-digital existence has become impossible.

_Discrepancy between real person and on-line existence: As personal information/communication is turned into data, new online existences come into being that have little to do with real life individuals – and for many business models, these real life individuals are not of import anyway; what counts are micro communities that transform themselves into data.

_Illusion of control: Nonetheless – many users do still foster the believe that one can control the situation – two (absolutely contrary) approaches to regaining (imagined) control are on the one hand the strategy of acquiring many virtual identities (so as to cause confusion – yet as soon as the connection between them is revealed, they are mapped permanently) or the idea to only use one’s real name (so as to make sure that one always ‘behaves’ in way that cannot be turned against oneself).

_We are searchable: Those who engage in social media act similarly, exchange similar information like they would in real life – yet in real life our conversations and our behaviour are not ‘searchable’. Because all things digital have become searchable (and will never fade away, see above) new personality configurations emerge with which we have not yet learned to deal.

_We are aggregable: We have not only become searchable, but also aggregable. Information / communication which was intended only for certain addressees will sooner or later be brought together. Instead of only a small circle of friends/acquaintances, everything reaches a general public. Any form of electronic communication is public – sooner or later.

Evaluations of those taking part in the discussion corresponded in that it was widely believed that we are yet to face the biggest data-related disaster. On a more pragmatic note, it was believed that it lies with the current generation of users to find out how far we can allow ourselves to go with personal data.

See a corresponding article in Austrian daily newspaper Standard [German].

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  1. […] sind BarCamps gestern wieder spannend geworden, nachdem sie das zuletzt nicht immer mehr waren. Im Jänner 2008 ging ich ich auf mein erstes BarCamp, mit Meral und anderen organisierte ich im August desselben Jahres das (legendäre und bislang […]


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