privacy posts

Stories behind the themes: Personal Exposure November 9th, 2011
Part 8 of 19 in the series the Omni project


 

We recently shared some of the themes emerging from our secondary research for the Omni project. In lieu of a bibliographic deluge, over the next few days we are offering up a sprinkling of the articles, art, commentaries, presentations and other miscellany that contributed to the pool from which our themes were drawn. You will likely find (as we have) that many of these items are illustrative of more than one theme.

First up is the theme of¬†personal exposure and how technology is impacting our identities and behavior. Our participation involves a sacrifice of personal autonomy and control as various technologies require us to respond, reply, reveal, disclose, like, comment, protect, sign-in, sign up, secure, backup, manage, mitigate, translate and aggregate. We are making new choices about old behaviors and developing new rituals to replace outdated interfaces. The boundaries are blurring between private and public, at the same time we have more options than ever before for qualifying and segregating all of the different “I”s that we wish to be, depending on the context.¬† Within this theme we are seeing the topics of identity, trust, consumption, production, control, privacy, regulation, and the facts and myths that capture (and perpetuate) it all.

Tiger Moms and Digital Media [psychologytoday.com] - A psychotherapist who specializes in Internet and video game addiction offers 9 guidelines for raising children who have “a healthy relationship to digital media.” This starts to point at issues of control and autonomy within families and raises questions about the role of the parent (and technology) in childhood development.

For reasons I cannot explain, I saw the approaching flood, when internet addiction was only a trickle. Now, that flood is upon us. Statistics tell us that between 6 and 13% of the general population meets criteria for Internet Addiction. In the college age population, that number stands between 13 and 19%! That’s a lot of young adults who are addicted to digital technology. In S. Korea and China, the problem is growing so rapidly that those governments have declared Internet Addiction to be their #1 public health threat. Think about it.

Internet Privacy: Is it overrated? [fortune.com] - A book review of “How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live” by Jeff Jarvis that dives into the challenges of defining the messy term ‘privacy’ and the even messier obstacles associated with information sharing, regulation, and ‘publicness’. Starting to unpack the tangled web of identity and privacy, including expectations of control that accompany acts of exposure.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has tried to recast the desire for privacy as a desire for control over our digital identities. He argues that people want to share information, but we want to determine who gets to see and use it. Jarvis says this definition is too tidy. Privacy is much messier. We live in relationship with other people, after all. How do we even define what qualifies as our own information? If I share information that implicates you, who gets to control that? …. His book is not so much a rallying cry for tweeting your breakfast choices and blogging your company financials as it is a field guide for how to navigate this new technology with optimism rather than fear.

Where an Internet Joke Is Not Just a Joke [nytimes.com] – In light of increasing numbers of detained internet artists and government critics in China, a discussion of censorship and egao (“mischeivous mockery”) that is employed by many to subvert the internet patrols. Example of governmental control and how it is responded to (i.e. averted) through subversive collective channels. Challenges assumptions of exposure as a privilege rather than a right and describes some consequences for individual identity in that scuffle.

No government in the world pours more resources into patrolling the Web than China’s, tracking down unwanted content and supposed miscreants among the online population of 500 million with an army of more than 50,000 censors and vast networks of advanced filtering software. Yet despite these restrictions – or precisely because of them – the Internet is flourishing as the wittiest space in China. “Censorship warps us in many ways, but it is also the mother of creativity,” says Hu Yong, an Internet expert and associate professor at Peking University. “It forces people to invent indirect ways to get their meaning across, and humor works as a natural form of encryption.”

Russian ATM can detect when users are lying [springwise.com] – Depictions of technology can create distorted views of the future and the present; the notion is that this technology exists but it’s in the lab and it may never make it to the market in a reliable consumable form. The mere suggestion of its potential existence raises a number of questions about current practices involving consumer data. How does disclosure of possible futures impact individual understandings of who we are and how our information is managed, regulated and protected from fraudulent misappropriation?

Though the new ATM design is still in the prototype stages, Sberbank plans to install such machines in malls and bank branches around the country, the NYT reports. Financial institutions elsewhere in the world: time to think about introducing something similar?

My Emergency Contact Information [mcsweeneys.net] – Delicious little piece on how to contact someone in the event of an emergency. It’s fantatsically and unnecessarily complex with hints on how to guess neighbor’s wifi passwords. Unravels the many ways we have learned to be protected,¬†(dis)connected and affected (by easily consumable disasters around the globe).

First, if possible, try me on my cell phone. You should all have the number. I’d really prefer an emergency text message instead of a phone call, especially if the incidenct occurs before 8:00 p.m. on a weekday. Also, I don’t have a data plan, so please do not text images, regardless of the scale of devastation. Instead, Tweet or post pictures to your Flickr or Instagram photostreams and I will download or view them later, when I pass through a hotspot. Don’t forget to geo-tag them so I can determine your location.

 

 

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ChittahChattah Quickies March 21st, 2011
  • [from steve_portigal] Oh, Etsy. How could you? [Authentical] – [Smart take on process failures in Etsy's recent misstep. User research can make a big difference] It's hard for me to believe that if Etsy had conducted user research and even informal but realistic usability testing on the idea that they would not have quickly seen the privacy violation. They could have avoided the damage control they now have to deal with because of the breach of trust they've had with buyers who already love the experience of shopping there.Etsy could have avoided the problem and discovered a possibly great idea for engaging buyers even more. Where was the business plan for allowing search of users? How does having social "circles" support the business model, exactly? How would the social media strategy be supported on the back end? More than all that, let's look at others who have gone before us: Beacon on Facebook and Boden USA come to mind. What happened there? What could the Etsy team learn from those mistakes? Oh, and, why duplicate Facebook in any way?
  • [from julienorvaisas] The Art of the Police Report [Utne Reader] – [Collett provides a fascinating exploration of one cop's ability to achieve expression while governed by the formidable constraints of police report writing.] Writing is the one constant in a cop’s daily life. As with everything in the department, strict rules govern report writing, and as with any dangerous undertaking, the department will train you to do it properly. The most despised class at the police academy is the one that teaches writing. The incident report he’ll learn to write is the factual narrative account of a crime. Every event a cop responds to generates a report. Crime reports are written in the dispassionate uni-voice that’s testament to the academy’s ability to standardize writing. They feel generated rather than authored, the work of a single law enforcement consciousness rather than a specific human being. So how can I identify Martinez from a single sentence? Why do his reports make me feel pity, terror, or despair?
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ChittahChattah Quickies February 18th, 2011
  • [from julienorvaisas] Your Life Torn Open, Sharing is a trap [Wired UK] – [Academic and a little shrill at times, but provocative. In this essay, Keen shares his harsh, apocalyptic perspective on the nefarious implications of the increasingly social and open lives we live online, complete with case studies.] Today's digital social network is a trap. Today's cult of the social, peddled by an unholy alliance of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and communitarian idealists, is rooted in a misunderstanding of the human condition. The truth is that we aren't naturally social beings. Instead, as Vermeer reminds us in The Woman in Blue, human happiness is really about being left alone. On Liberty, the 1859 essay by Bentham's godson and former acolyte, John Stuart Mill, remains a classic defence of individual rights in the age of the industrial network and its tyranny of the majority. Today, as we struggle to make sense of the impact of the internet revolution, we need an equivalent On Digital Liberty to protect the right to privacy in the social-media age.
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ChittahChattah Quickies December 11th, 2010
  • [from steve_portigal] Romance Books Are Hot in the E-Reading Market [NYTimes.com] – [We've commented extensively on how printed books are a means of conveying identity by displaying a key to their contents; something that is lost with e-books. Now here's an example where that limitation provides a benefit] Sarah Wendell is passionate about romance novels. Except for the covers, with their images of sinewy limbs, flowing, Fabio-esque locks or, as she put it, “the mullets and the man chests “They are not always something that you are comfortable holding in your hand in public,” Ms. Wendell said. So she began reading e-books, escaping the glances and the imagined snickers from strangers on the subway, and joining the many readers who have traded the racy covers of romance novels for the discretion of digital books.
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ChittahChattah Quickies September 30th, 2010
  • [from julienorvaisas] A Badge That Tells Consumers, ‘Trust This App’ [NYTimes.com] – [Privacy concerns on the web have spawned a certification system. Does this really address the problem, curb the practice, or provide enough assurance/information to consumers? Or is it really more just a band-aid for providers to feel like they're doing enough to address mounting consumer concerns?] The certification process is a little bit different for mobile sites, said Chris Babel, chief executive of TRUSTe. People are worried about sites and apps using information that identifies them, like name, address and birth date. They also worry about geolocation services, whether Web companies can track where they are and whether they share that information with others, he said. And because many apps pull information from the phone, like calendar entries, people do not know exactly what information apps can access. “When it’s sitting on your mobile device, which has your contacts and calendar, what is it accessing? What’s it doing?” Mr. Babel said he hears customers ask.
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ChittahChattah Quickies June 15th, 2010
  • [from steve_portigal] Rent a White Guy [The Atlantic] – And so I became a fake businessman in China, an often lucrative gig for underworked expatriates here. One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image—particularly, the image of connection—that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: “Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.” We were supposedly representing a California-based company that was building a facility in Dongying. Our responsibilities would include making daily trips to the construction site, attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and hobnobbing. During the ceremony, one of us would have to give a speech as the company’s director. That duty fell to my friend Ernie. His business cards had already been made. (via @Kottke)
  • [from julienorvaisas] Hey Facebook! Here’s your privacy redesign [Fortune.com] – [The community is now literally begging Facebook to fix this issue. Free design!] We asked several leading user experience designers how they'd overhaul the social network's obtuse privacy settings interface if given the chance. Here, in their own words, are their innovative solutions.
  • [from steve_portigal] For Forgetful, Cash Helps the Medicine Go Down [NYTimes.com] – [The challenge of marketing, design & other forms of corporate persuasion is revealed when you see that people need incentive/motivation to take medication] One-third to one-half of all patients do not take medication as prescribed, and up to one-quarter never fill prescriptions at all, experts say. Such lapses fuel more than $100 billion dollars in health costs annually because those patients often get sicker. Now, a controversial, and seemingly counterintuitive, effort to tackle the problem is gaining ground: paying people money to take medicine or to comply with prescribed treatment. The idea, which is being embraced by doctors, pharmacy companies, insurers and researchers, is that paying modest financial incentives up front can save much larger costs of hospitalization…Although “economically irrational,” Dr. Corrigan said, small sums might work better than bigger ones because otherwise patients might think, “ ‘I’m only doing this for the money,’ and it would undermine treatment.”
  • [from steve_portigal] Creativity thrives in Pixar’s animated workplace [SF Chronicle] – At another company, the employee in Payne's position might be a feared corporate rules-enforcer – the guy who tells you not to put tack holes in the plaster or forbids you from painting over the white walls next to your cubicle. But the architect and 14-year Pixar veteran embraces the madness. Among the more creative additions on the campus: One animator built a bookcase with a secret panel – which opens up into a speakeasy-style sitting area with a card table, bar and security monitor. Other employees work in modified Tuff Sheds, tricked out to look like little houses with front porches and chandeliers. "Sometimes I just have to let go," Payne says with an amused sigh, as he walks into a newer building with a high ceiling – where someone has interrupted the clean sightlines with a wooden loft. A couch and a mini-refrigerator are balanced 10 feet above the floor. [Did a mini-ethnography of Pixar a few years ago and the cultural factors around creativity and community were outstanding]
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The unholy child of anthropology and marketing? Or a great idea…or both? October 30th, 2009

Michael Cannell posted yesterday at Fast Company on design firm Blu-Dot’s fascinating new campaign, in which they are going to give away chairs by leaving them on the streets of New York, and then use GPS embedded in the chairs to track them down. According to Michael Hart of Mono, the ad firm that developed the idea with Blu-Dot:

If all goes according to plan, the video crew will use the GPS to find the chairs a few months from now. They’ll knock on doors and interview the owners–homeless people, Apartment Therapy readers, whoever they turn out to be–about why they took the chairs and how they use them. “Where does great design end up in New York? What sort of a person invites these chairs into their homes?”

Wow – there are so many layers to this. The brilliant experimental marketing layer, the Big Brother-ish invasion of privacy layer, the genius “guaranteed-to-get-talked-and-written-about” PR layer, the “no-marketing-message-included” layer reminiscent of “no-brand” brand Muji, the Chris Anderson “free” layer, and finally, the anthropological, archeological, design research find-out-where-the-chairs-go layer, which in and of itself would be a great conceptual art project or social experiment.

This project–what do you even call it? Is it a project, a campaign, an experiment?–really takes the openness and creative potential of contemporary marketing and runs with it.

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To Tweet or not to Tweet July 27th, 2009

bowie_bemusing_skull

I just got back from a medical leave, and while I was off work, I had to face an interesting new dilemma.

I usually post at least a couple of tweets a day on Twitter; it’s part of my work and how I stay in touch with people, events, and general whassup.

Because our work encompasses such a wide range–technology, pop culture, behavioral trends–there’s not much in my life that isn’t relevant content, but during this period I had a lot of downtime where I really wasn’t engaged with much beyond my morning coffee, my dog, and a couple of favorite movies.

I had to really think about to what extent I wanted to share my purely private, personal life on the Net.

After a tweet or two to let people know my general situation, I found that I just naturally disengaged from Twitter and Facebook. It was the first since I’ve started using these tools that I was only interacting (for the most part) with my immediate surroundings and people who were physically present, and I have to say that it was refreshing and relaxing.

Now that I’m back in the fray, it feels just as natural to be getting involved once again in all this communication, but I feel like it was really valuable, for a little while, to have a retreat.

As sociologist Sherry Turkle said during a discussion on the NPR show On Point, “In some ways we come to technology expecting to be nourished by it, and in some ways it’s eating us up.”

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ChittahChattah Quickies March 10th, 2009
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The Issue is Security January 8th, 2007

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Staples ladders up to a higher-order benefit, from commodity office supplies to a sense of well-being. Selling security without using fear; nicely done. Seems empowering, rather than manipulative.

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The Last Days Of Privacy June 28th, 2006

Last week Adaptive Path very generously hosted a presentation by Adam Greenfield, tied in with his new book Everyware.

I enjoyed the talk for the most part. He’s so passionate, respectful and articulate about the challenges facing designers as we unleash new technologies that have the potential to track insane amounts of data (he gave examples such as a door that would know who was approaching it based on sensors in the floor that match style of gait to a person’s name, and lock or unlock accordingly) in order to offer new functionality. Adam is thinking about ethical design principles for ubiqutious computing and certainly found a receptive audience with his presentation.

No disrespect to Adam, but I found the technological focus a bit wearisome, and wanted to hear more about the human element. Although the technologies he is warning us about are new(ish), the issues are really wrapped up in our discussions around privacy. The cultural behaviors (the culture of manufacturers who want the data, of designers who face these questions, of consumers who consider tradeoffs between privacy and functionality) are actively challenging and being challenged right now. Even if the technology of Google is not the same technology as an RFID chip in a credit card, the cultural and market issues are the same. This is happening now, so what is the point in drawing a line in the sand and saying “let’s focus on design values for everything on the other side of this line”?

Case-in-point in THE LAST DAYS OF PRIVACY in the SF Chron recently.

Pay By Touch admits it has encountered some resistance among shoppers it approached in supermarkets that already use the company’s fingerprint service. But Morris, its president, says many of these customers are quickly won over by the convenience of Pay By Touch, which is free for consumers, and that the company keeps data points based on users’ fingerprints, not actual fingerprints. So far, supermarkets in 40 states use the Pay By Touch system.

Pay By Touch says it takes great care to safeguard its users’ data. After fingerprints are converted into algorithms, they’re encrypted, then stored in IBM computers. Those algorithms can’t be reconverted into an exact copy of the fingerprint, though Pay By Touch may eventually store users’ actual fingerprints if the technology improves, Morris says. The company insists it will never sell users’ personal information or fingerprints to anyone else — a pledge that’s backed up in writing when users sign up with the company. But what if federal authorities, citing national security, insist on the finger scan and payment history of a Pay By Touch user?
Pam Dixon, who heads the World Privacy Forum, a public research group, went to Chicago to warn potential Pay By Touch users about possible dangers.
“It didn’t stick,” she says. “People were (more) concerned with (convenience than) the potential risks. People can put their thumb on a pad and be done with it. But meanwhile, their biometric data is sitting with another company, a third party, that’s subject to subpoena. One argument that I made: Let’s say that every supermarket in the country, particularly the large chains, (use) a biometric payment system. It’s a law enforcement dream because who needs a biometric database run by the U.S. government when you’ve got one being run by private companies?”

“(Users) like that they don’t have to pull their card out anymore. They (tell us they) like that they don’t have to carry their (purses or wallets) through the parking lot of an urban supermarket. There’s a physical security benefit. Their numbers are never displayed. The safety of securing their data is the No. 1 thing they like.”

No surprise to anyone reading that this is the angle I’m more interested in. Now, Adam didn’t ignore this angle by any means; he proposed a series of icons that would alert people to the fact that data was being collected in an environment and so on. But I think the challenges to addressing these issues are more fundamental – Adam is asking how things change when we’re interacting with a technology that’s in the room somewhere, rather than simply typing at a keyboard (a more deliberate act). But we don’t have a good handle yet on the fundamental cultural issues – the tradeoffs that people are making between what a technology affords and what they may be giving up. It’s the same issue no matter where that is happening, and solving for this new special case seems moot if we don’t get a handle on the underlying socio-cultural aspects.

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Home Depot are privacy scumbags? December 11th, 2005

I was trying to snag an interesting bargain at HomeDepot that I found on slickdeals.net so I registered with their site, figuring if it knew my local area it might better find available stock for me. I declined to receive any of their 8 mailings and figured that was that.

I get a registration confirmation that is kind of scary

Steve, this confirmation email verifies your recent registration at homedepot.com. You will not receive additional email from The Home Depot unless you opt-in for our email offerings or purchase at homedepot.com.

[various other content in the welcome email snipped]

You may be removed from this list by calling 1-800-430-3376, or mailing your request to Customer Care at:

The Home Depot
2455 Paces Ferry Rd NW
Atlanta, GA 30339

So it’s confusing, for one. Why do I need to be removed from this list if I won’t receive anything else anyway? And why will they presume to add me to this (or some other) list when I make a purchase? Forcing me to write or call someone to opt-out? That’s heinous. Definitely makes me rethink my purchase, if I am therefore forced to make a call to opt-out.

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