Negotiating Privacy, Boundaries and Visibility in a Networked World: Why We Need to Move Beyond Opt-in vs. Opt-Out
December 3, 2010
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It seems that not a week goes by without a new eruption of privacy troubles. Most people are clearly disoriented and confused by this onslaught – the fallout from the introduction of Google Buzz, the confusion caused by changing of Facebook defaults, or the vulnerabilities that Firesheep exposed. Unfortunately, too often, the debate does not proceed beyond the particulars of each crisis – and, at best, concludes a call for opt-in rather than an opt-out mechanism for rolling out new changes. While I also agree that establishing opt-in as a standard would be an important step forward, this is just the tip of the iceberg of the broad discussion we need to be having about the impact of the profound transformation in the infrastructure of our society that has come about as a result of the rapid incorporation of the digital world into our commons. Crucially, the architecture of the digital world, as it stands, differs in significantly from the architecture of the offline world. This new setting brings about new structures of visibility, connectivity and boundaries – and some of these affordances and allowances clash violently with our previously-established expectations and norms of visibility and boundaries that are based mostly on the architecture of the non-digital world. It is very important for people who design and build this infrastructure to be fully-immersed in the debate about the world they are helping create. Design is never neutral and always involves choices about power, structure and possibility.