What do we want to be private?

Jeffrey Rosen’s discussion of privacy raises interesting issues.

  • Older societies dealt carefully with gossip because of the long-term effects on reputation that people faced living in the same place all of their lives. However, the American story has always included the option to remake yourself. That option is now disappearing because of the long memory of the Internet.
  • People have suggested radical solutions to our problems in things like discussion of a constitutional right to oblivion in France or a proposal that people should be able to declare “reputation bankruptcy” every decade.
  • Most people are less concerned about others posting false information about them than true information they posted about themselves.
  • We’re generally permissive of online sharing but find physical information more intrusive (think about the Hello Book and Facebook).
  • Companies offer us privacy settings, but Rosen’s main conclusion seems to be that control over settings isn’t enough; people “want control over their online reputations.”

Rosen further discusses his position in Part 1 and Part 2 of a PBS interview about the end of forgetting.

So how can we talk about privacy without everyone’s eyes glazing over? Most younger users say, “Yeah, I know I shouldn’t post anything I wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see. I know I shouldn’t share sensitive information. If I keep up with that, what’s left to talk about?”

A law professor at Samford University, Woodrow Hartzog, is an expert on privacy in the digital age, and he suggests that the difference between privacy and obscurity is important to grasp. An article that Hartzog wrote with philosophy professor Evan Selinger in The Atlantic further discusses the concept of obscurity.

Let’s think about Facebook’s new privacy policy in light of Rosen’s conclusion that people want control over reputation, not settings, and Hartzog’s argument that we all just want a little obscurity online. Facebook announced its Privacy Basics tool Nov. 13.

For Monday: We’ll talk about the latest guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission about disclosure of advertising/promotional messages in social media. Inside Counsel provides a good summary of requirements and a recent case.

Your social media audit is due by hard copy at the beginning of class on Monday.


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