I’ve been invited to talk to Vancouver’s vibrant Social Media Club on October 7! I’m thrilled to be presenting, and will be giving a related (though very different) talk from the one a few days earlier at Social Media Camp Victoria. Instead of making traffic analysis a focus, I’ll be speaking more broadly of what I’ll be referring to as a ‘malaise of privacy’. This general discomfort of moving around online is (I will suggest) significantly related to the opaque privacy laws and protections that supposedly secure individuals’ privacy online as contrasted against the daily reality of identity theft, data breaches, and so forth. The thrust will be to provide those in attendance with the theoretical background to develop their own ethic(s) of privacy to make legal privacy statements more accessible and understandable.
See below for the full abstract:
Supplementing Privacy Policies with a Privacy Ethic
Social media platforms are increasingly common (and often cognitively invisible) facets of Western citizens’ lives; we post photos to Facebook and Flickr, engage in conversations on Orkut and Twitter, and relax by playing games on Zynga and Blizzard infrastructures. The shift to the Internet as a platform for mass real-time socialization and service provision demands a tremendous amount of trust on the part of citizens, and research indicates that citizens are increasingly concerned about whether their trust is well placed. Analytics, behavioural advertising, identity theft, and data mismanagements strain the public’s belief that digital systems are ‘privacy neutral’ whilst remaining worried about technological determinisms purported to drive socialized infrastructures.
For this presentation, I begin by briefly reviewing the continuum of the social web, touching on the movement from Web 1.0 to 2.0, and the future as ‘Web Squared’. Next, I address the development of various data policy instruments intended to protect citizens’ privacy online and that facilitate citizens’ trust towards social media environments requiring personal information as the ‘cost of entry’. Drawing on academic and popular literature, I suggest that individuals participating in social media environments care deeply about their privacy and distrust (and dislike) the ubiquity of online surveillance, especially in the spaces they communicate and play. Daily experiences with data protection – often manifest in the form of privacy statements and policies – are seen as unapproachable, awkward, and obtuse by most social media users. Privacy statements and their oft-associated surveillance infrastructures contributes to a broader social malaise surrounding the effectiveness of formal data protection and privacy laws.
Given the presence of this malaise, and potential inability of contemporary data protection laws to secure individuals’ privacy, what can be done? I suggest that those involved in social media are well advised to develop an ethic of privacy to supplement legally required privacy statements. By adopting clear statements of ethics, supplemented with legal language and opt-in data disclosures of personal information, operators of social media environments can be part of the solution to society’s privacy malaise. Rather than outlining an ethic myself, I provide the building blocks for those attending to establish their own ethic. I do this by identifying dominant theoretical approaches to privacy: privacy as a matter of control, as an individual vs community vs hybrid issue, as an issue of knowledge and agency, and as a question of contextual data flows. With an understanding of these concepts, those attending will be well suited to supplement their privacy statements and policies with a nuanced and substantive ethics of privacy.