Ping (zestyping) wrote,

This is what's wrong with the privacy debate.

There are roughly two positions being expressed in the debate about privacy online: "Websites are violating user trust and that's wrong" and "Get over it, there's no such thing as privacy anyway".

The problem is that the pundits in the latter camp tend to be affluent, powerful, male, straight, white, or all of the above. To them, users should just "get over" being violated. I disagree. These pundits have probably never personally feared rape, an abusive partner, or a corrupt authority. Living in public is a solution they think they can afford, but many people can't.

The idea that personal information should be public by default is deeply flawed. "Those who care about privacy should check the privacy settings often, or just opt out", they say. What they are describing is a space that imposes the highest maintenance costs and the heaviest burden of technical understanding on the users who are the most vulnerable. That's not a safe space.

If your users do not understand your privacy UI, it is not they who have failed; it is you.

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May 15 2010, 20:54:43 UTC 10 years ago

I presume you realize that you will lose anyone but the choir you're preaching to by switching into the liberal-academic-ese vocabulary in "tend to be affluent, powerful, male, straight, white, or all of the above," right?

You have a good point to make, but with that sentence as is, no one who needs to hear it will listen. You realize also that, outside the Berkeley campus, your racism (and *-ism) is considered rather rude? If you're unconvinced that that statement is perceived as racist/*-ist, consider switching "white" to "black", or "straight" to "gay". Just because some group is the majority doesn't mean that the world at large (outside the People's Republic of Berkeley) thinks it's perfectly PC to badmouth them, especially in a context where your message can carry quite well without the race-baiting(/sexuality-baiting/etc) in that sentence.

How on earth is it "badmouthing" to claim that affluent, powerful, male, straight, white people are less likely to fear rape or domestic abuse? I'd use the phrase "blindingly obvious", myself.

I've seen several articles claiming that women are more likely to assault their partner than men. It seems you think the phrase "blindingly obvious" increases your credibility, but I would argue the opposite.
Indeed, and this is why men all worry about walking alone at night (and ask women to escort them home), carry their keys in their hands when walking through parking lots (in case they need to stab an assailant with them), and so forth. Because men are raised to fear being raped, and that shadows their actions through their whole lives. Not like women, who rarely give it a thought.

Yes, yes, don't feed the troll -- sorry Ping.
You: make sexist generalizing vague statements without citing any sources

Me: link to wikipedia


10 years ago


May 17 2010, 07:57:14 UTC 10 years ago

You misunderstand my point above. I meant to underscore that writing
"The problem is that [the antagonists] tend to be ... male, straight, white [and thus] have probably never personally feared rape, an abusive partner, or a corrupt authority"
is completely unnecessarily incendiary toward anyone not raised in the liberal white-male-heterosexual-guilt paradigm, given that what Ping really meant to communicate was the much more relevant and factual
"The problem is that [the antagonists] have probably never personally feared rape, an abusive partner, or a corrupt authority."
I see no reason why the race-baiting/*-baiting in the first line is necessary to communicate the relevant message of the second line. If you don't find yourself disgusted at the first line, sure, good for you, but, really, I assert that the majority that Ping needs to convince of the second line will have an intensely negative knee-jerk reaction to the original formulation, like I did.

(And yes, I've read some of danah's posts on the subject. Mind you, in terms of Facebook's behavior, I'm with the choir here. Just reminding Ping to turn around and preach to the others, too.)
You've misread the post. Nowhere did I make a generalization about men, white people, etc. There is no judgement of such people, no assignment of guilt.

I simply made a factual observation about the loudest voices dismissing privacy. The fact that they come from a narrow group means that perspective is lacking, and that is the problem.


10 years ago


10 years ago

Thanks for posting. Have you seen danah's recent posts on this? They're much longer, but good food for thought. Perhaps the anonymous commenter above would be well-served reading them, for a more detailed explanation of what you mean.

Yes, I had read the first, and it's much better written than this post. :)

Thanks for the second one. I'm not sure I agree, but I am thinking about it.
I think you have a troll in the dungeon!
Not trolls! not on the internets!
I think the most striking aspect of the facebook privacy debate is that everyone already agrees with everyone else regarding the ideal state of affairs. Yes, it would be nice if facebook didn't fuck around with our privacy settings. Yes, it would be nice if facebook made it easy to keep everything at maximum privacy, especially since that's the setting most people want by default. Yes, doing what the user wants is good. Yes, simple and understandable user interfaces are good. Yes, disobeying your users for the sake of corporate profits is bad. All of these are very straightforward and unremarkable points.

So what are we ACTUALLY arguing about? I think this is a remarkably subtle question.

Ping, in your post you claim that everyone falls into two camps, and I agree. If I could rephrase the positions of these two camps, I would do it as such:

Camp #1: "Facebook is making it hard or impossible to keep my data private, and that's annoying. Worse than that, it's morally wrong, and it violates the UI guidelines in learned in CompSci 101. Facebook must be confused or something. Maybe if I explain things to them, they'll change."

Camp #2: "Facebook is making it hard or impossible to keep my data private, and that's annoying. But they're doing it on purpose because they think it'll improve their bottom line, and they're probably right, so it's naive to expect them to do anything else. Facebook isn't going to change, so we're just going to have to work around it."

I doubt facebook is just flailing around thoughtlessly here. I think they knew exactly the kind of backlash they would get when they started messing with the privacy settings. But they did it anyway. Why? It wasn't to be evil. It wasn't out of an ignorance of UI philosophy.

(PS: I have no affiliation with the initial anonymous poster. All of my posts have been under this screen name)
My definition of an evil company is one which harms people to improve its bottom line.

Evil is not usually a direct goal. It happens when people pursue their own goals without caring about their impact on others.

Did this really harm users? Yes, Facebook's actions revealed information such as sexual orientation, political affiliation, and physical location. This exposed people to the risk of losing jobs, having a falling-out with family members, or being found by stalkers they were trying to get away from. For example, a friend of mine had info about his unusual sexual interests revealed to his conservative family. Giving away private info is not wrong in an abstract sense; it's wrong because it hurts people.

You're right that the question now is how we can work around this. I think that enough bad press might help keep Facebook in check in the short term, but in the long run they've shown they can't be trusted. The remaining options are to only give info to Facebook that you want to be public even when it claims it's going to keep it private, or to find another service to use.

Of course, nobody wants to be the first one to quit Facebook, but my presence there acts as a draw to keep my friends there too, and I don't want to be partly responsible for that.

(I think Livejournal is a pretty good Facebook replacement -- the ability to have friends-only posts is the main feature we need, but I also appreciate the longer, more thoughtful posts people write here.)