Oddly Shaped Pegs

An inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Stuff

Privacy in the NYT

with 3 comments

An article in yesterday’s New York Times (front “page” on the web last night) does a good job of highlighting some of the intricacies of “privacy” in online social networks. The article links to a surprising number of technical research articles. There were also two quotes that stuck out.

‘“Technology has rendered the conventional definition of personally identifiable information obsolete,” said Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the Federal Trade Commission’s privacy division.’

This is not news to most computer scientists, but it is nice to hear it from the FTC. [On a related point, the FTC is holding the third of a series of roundtable discussions on electronic privacy today. Webcast here.]

The ending quote of the article, from Jon Kleinberg, was more of a downer:

“When you’re doing stuff online, you should behave as if you’re doing it in public — because increasingly, [you are].”

I disagree with the most literal interpretation of the quote, since there are still many ways to do things privately online. But keeping your privacy increasingly requires both technical sophistication and great care. And of course that endangers some of the coolest things about the Internet.


Written by adamdsmith

March 17, 2010 at 10:51 am

3 Responses

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  1. Klienberg -> Kleinberg


    March 17, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    • fixed. thanks!


      March 17, 2010 at 12:44 pm

  2. I think Kleinberg might be referring to the fact that the mental complexity of figuring out privacy context is too much for most users. In that sense I think he’s right; there’s research backing that up as well. danah boyd said at a recent SXSW keynote that not a single Facebook user she spoke to had an accurate idea of what level of access control applied to the different parts of their profile.


    March 17, 2010 at 5:03 pm

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