I attended this year’s Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference and spent time in sessions on privacy in large data sets, deep packet inspection and network neutrality, the role of privacy in venture capital pitches, and what businesses are doing to secure privacy. In addition, a collection of us worked for some time to produce a rough draft of the Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights that was subsequently discussed and ratified by the conference participants. In this post, I want to speak to the motivations of the Bill of Rights, characteristics of social networking and Bill proper, a few hopeful outcomes resulting from the Bill’s instantiation and conclude by denoting a concerns around the Bill’s creation and consequent challenges for moving it forward.
First, let me speak to the motivation behind the Bill. Social networking environments are increasingly becoming the places where individuals store key information – contact information, photos, thoughts and reflections, video – and genuinely becoming integrated into the political. This integration was particularly poignantly demonstrated last year when the American State Department asked Twitter to delay upgrades that would disrupt service and stem the information flowing out of Iran following the illegitimate election of President Ahmadinejad. Social networks have already been tied into the economic and social landscapes in profound ways: we see infrastructure costs for maintaining core business functionality approaching zero and the labor that was historically required for initiating conversations and meetings, to say nothing of shared authorship, have been integrated into social networking platforms themselves. Social networking, under this rubric, extends beyond sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and encapsulate companies like Google and Yahoo!, WordPress, and Digg, and their associated product offerings. Social networking extends well beyond social media; we can turn to Mashable’s collection of twenty characteristics included in the term ‘social networking’ for guidance as to what the term captures:
I get strange looks from some of my friends and colleagues sometimes. On the one hand, I strongly advance the idea that people’s privacy should be protected, by default, and at the same time I blog, use social networking sites (though somewhat uncomfortably), own a cell phone, use credit cards, etc. This week I’ve ‘stepped things up’ by syndicating my del.icio.us bookmarks with my blog – you’ll now be treated (or spammed, I guess, depending on how you see things) with the articles that I’ve tagged in the past 24 hours that I think are interesting.
I’ll start by stating this: I don’t think that the links you’ll be seeing are Spam. I think that I’m tagging good, solid, helpful links for people that might be interested in surveillance, privacy, and (typically) how either of those topics intersects with technology in some fashion. You’ll note that, for the next little while at least, you’ll see links to articles on Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and behavioral advertising. I expect some WiMAX stuff as well. There are a couple reasons why I’m syndicating this kind of content:
There has been a sustained argument across the ‘net and in traditional circles, that privacy is being redefined before our very eyes. Oftentimes, we see how a word transforms by studying its etymology – this is helpful in understanding the basis of the words that we utter. What do we do, however, when we work to redefine not just a word’s definition (such as what the term ‘cool’ refers to) but its normative horizons?
In redefining the work ‘privacy’ to account for how people are empirically protecting their privacy, are we redefining the word, or the normative horizon that it captures? Moreover, can we genuinely assume that the term’s normative guide is changing simply because of recent rapid changes in technology increase the difficulty in exercising our right to privacy in digitized environments? To argue that these normative boundaries are shifting largely because of how digital networks have been programmed presupposes that the networks cannot be designed in any other way, that digital content will flow as it does now the same way that gravity acts on our physical bodies as it presently does. The difficulty in maintaining such an analogy is that it assumes that there are natural laws to an immanent programming languages that structure how we can participate in digital environments.
The University of Guelph will be moving to a new email provider in the next month or two and along with that movement will come (over time) a unified student calendaring system. I want to discuss the role of email, unified calendaring, and how they impact TAs.
Email is the best-known electronic tool amongst TAs. It has been used for years to communicate with students, set up meeting dates, and answer rudimentary questions. The benefit of email is that it allows for relatively confidential communications between TAs and students – others cannot read the message unless either the TA or student break confidentiality. Email is not terribly well-suited for drawn out conversations, however, nor is it very good at developing content amongst a series of participants. It does, however, allow students and TAs to be accountable for what they say, which can be helpful in times of grade challenges that were supposedly made through email. For this reason TAs should ensure that no student information is deleted for at least one year after the course.