April 25th & 26th
287 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Abstract Submission Deadline: January 19th
What does it mean that digital technologies are increasingly a part of...
Stephanie Fontanel, Life Without Sex
Ashkan Soltani, Technology, Not Law, Limits Mass Surveillance
Kenneth Roth, Rethinking Surveillance
Snowden’s recent disclosures about the pervasive abuse of the government’s power to collect metadata from internet services and phone companies has clearly demonstrated that everything about us can be known. Not just the metadata of our communications — the timestamps and routing information of our communications — but every word, every secret endearment, every revealing nickname breathed into a phone at a bar, every text keyed to a illicit romance a during a lunch break.
I turn Roth’s last sentence around: they are likely treating our metadata no differently than the data. Meaning: they are looking at everything.
We are living in an age of radical, savage publicy. The only secrets now are those we tell no one and never write down; and the merely private — where we are at the present moment, what books we are reading, or the sex toys we bought online — aren’t private anymore: we might as well be blogging it all.
Saw today that the US Postal Service is photographing the exterior of all mail, gathering the metadata of our snail mail, building a map of who is sending what to who.
In a climate of total information everything is known to the government, if they chose to look.
Total publicy is the end of liberty, and the proof that government is a dog off the leash, running free of the restraints that are explicit in our laws, constitution, and the foundation of our culture.
The public seems unmoved, almost accepting of this state of affairs. They shrug after hearing this news, and turn back to the reality shows — where we gaze into the awful, stilted lives of wannabees, watching like masturbating voyeurs — and cloak ourselves in the peculiar American sense of being better than everyone else and at the same time feeling cut off from the broader human experience by Atlantic and Pacific barriers. We feel safe, due to the American penchant for ignoring the outside world until we decide to invade it.
The real world is made into a reality show with the government watching all of us, while they tell us not to worry, no good people will be harmed, no one who has done nothing need be concerned. (Haven’t we all done something, though?)
Perhaps Americans like the idea that their government can gather a totality of information on our allies, on terrorists, on whistle blowers. They want a government who can track down anyone who has done anything. Even at the cost of anything like liberty and freedom.
Julian Assange, The Banality Of ‘Don’t Be Evil’
Hamza Shaban, Live in Infamy
Being a leftist in a conservative world of business caused me difficulties for decades, and as a result I was acutely aware of the need for multiple ‘me’s.
Now that I have come out (as a much-more-than-liberal leftist) I am not confronted with the same sense of self-concealment, but I remain aware of the multiphrenia latent in human existence, and the ways that social networking sites try to make us be one indivisible self, despite all evidence to the contrary.
The crisis of publicy is not just that we might be outed, but that a repressive social order can and will judge us, and exclude us from publics we want to participate in.
Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren argued for the right to privacy in 1890, and we are still struggling with the form of that, one hundred years later. Today, we need a stronger right, the right to publicy: we need to be allowed to share information online and not suffer retribution because of our activities, wants, connections, or thoughts, so long as we cause no harm.
But we live in a repressive world, a world of retributive sanctions, where a night of drunken rowdiness captured on a smartphone and published to the web can end a job, or wearing the wrong halloween costume can lead to a political candidate losing a race.
What we need is a more relaxed, less judgmental society, rather than better laws. We have a long wait, I’m afraid.
(PS The New Inquiry is a great publication, a must read for me.)
Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren, The Right To Privacy, 1890
Alessandro Acquisti, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University, has done great research into the conflicts we have over privacy and publicy: how willing are we to reveal ourselves.
Somini Sengupta, Web Privacy, and How Consumers Let Down Their Guard
Aiming to learn how consumers determine the value of their privacy, Mr. Acquisti dispatched a set of graduate students to a suburban mall on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. To some shoppers, the students offered a $10 discount card, plus an extra $2 discount in exchange for their shopping data. Half declined the extra offer — apparently, they weren’t willing to reveal the contents of their shopping cart for a mere $2.
To other shoppers, however, the students offered a different choice: a $12 discount card and the option of trading it in for $10 if they wished to keep their shopping record private. Curiously, this time, 90 percent of shoppers chose to keep the higher-value coupon — even if it meant giving away the information about what they had bought.
Why such contradictory responses?
To Mr. Acquisti, the results offered a window into the tricks our minds can play. If we have something — in this case, ownership of our purchase data — we are more likely to value it. If we don’t have it at the outset, we aren’t likely to pay extra to acquire it. Context matters.
It also matters how we define privacy. Conventional wisdom around Web privacy policies rests on the notion that consumers will make intelligent choices. At a recent industry conference in San Francisco, Erin Egan, the chief privacy officer for Facebook, defined privacy as “understanding what happens to your data and having the ability to control it.”
Mr. Acquisti, however, suggests that control can be false comfort. In one of his most intriguing experiments, he summoned student volunteers to take an anonymous survey on vice.
The participants were asked whether they had ever stolen anything, lied or taken drugs. Some were told that their answers would be published in a research bulletin, others were asked for explicit permission to publish those answers, and still others were asked for permission to publish the answers as well as their age, sex and country of birth.
The results revealed the imperfection of human reasoning. Those who were offered the least control over who would see their answers seemed most reluctant to reveal themselves: among them, only 15 percent answered all 10 questions. Those who were asked for consent were nearly twice as likely to answer all questions. And among those who were asked for demographic information, every single person gave permission to disclose the data, even though those details could have allowed a complete stranger a greater chance of identifying the participant.
Mr. Acquisti took note of the paradox: fine-grained controls had led people to “share more sensitive information with larger, and possibly riskier, audiences.” He titled the paper, which he wrote with his colleagues Laura Brandimarte and George Loewenstein, “Misplaced Confidences: Privacy and the Control Paradox.”
“What worries me,” he said, “is that transparency and control are empty words that are used to push responsibility to the user for problems that are being created by others.”
I see these behaviors from the perspective of the ‘continuation of self’. Once a person has provided detailed information about themsleves — and gotten the sense of reward that comes from talking (or thinking) about who they are demographically or narratively, they then will naturally want to share that, to continue the positive feelings of narrative about self. This is the publicy urge.
The first case I think hinges on the shift of emphasis in the $12 card. It seems to be affirming the value of information about the person’s choices, where in the case of the additional $2, my sense is that it makes the information seem cheap, since $2 is less than $10. A logical trap, yes, but again associated with the abiding desire for a belief in the value of self narrative, which is the best way to think of our data exhaust: it doesn’t seem like a possession, but a by-product of self-expression.
Jane Jacobs, “The Uses of Sidewalks: Contact,” The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961)
In short, street life cultivates trust among the public towards one another. It may not be as intimate as the relationships we keep with our friends, family, or neighbors, but having faith in the public is something worth maintaining: one public sidewalk contact at a time.
The sense of a public identity, and their connectedness in place, in collaboration with the built spaces of the city, is the source of that trust that Jacobs writes about. And we lose that when we try to force people into private commitments, or private spaces.
This is not a fantasy: corporations will use social data analysis like that outlined in the scenario below to make decisions on hires. They will infer who has migraines, drinks too much, screws around, or is a closet socialist.
Facebook’s Generation Y nightmare - Frédéric Filloux
"Tina Porter, 26. She’s what you need for the transpacific trade issues you just mentioned, Alan. Her dissertation speaks for itself, she even learned Korean…"
"But?…" Asks the HR guy.
"She’s afflicted with acute migraine. It occurs at least a couple of times a month. She’s good at concealing it, but our data shows it could be a problem," Chen says.
"How the hell do you know that?"
"Well, she falls into this particular Health Cluster. In her Facebook babbling, she sometimes refers to a spike in her olfactory sensitivity – a known precursor to a migraine crisis. In addition, each time, for a period of several days, we see a slight drop in the number of words she uses in her posts, her vocabulary shrinks a bit, and her tweets, usually sharp, become less frequent and more nebulous. That’s an obvious pattern for people suffering from serious migraine. In addition, the Zeo Sleeping Manager website and the stress management site HeartMath – both now connected with Facebook – suggest she suffers from insomnia. In other words, Alan, we think you can’t take Ms Porter in the firm. Our Predictive Workforce Expenditure Model shows that she will cost you at least 15% more in lost productivity. Not to mention the patterns in her Facebook entries suggesting a 75% chance for her to become pregnant in the next 18 months, again according to our models."
"Not exactly a disease from what I know. But OK, let’s move on".
Corporations will conceal their decision-making processes when it collides with privacy regulations and government restrictions on discrimination, most likely by outsourcing head-hunting to outside companies, who will outsource finding the best candidates to other outside companies, who will use programs rented from even more outside companies. They are doing this already: this is mainstream.