danah boyd (no, my shift key isn't broken ), a Microsoft researcher and Fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center, delivered the opening keynote at SXSW today. To no one's surprise, it was a thought provoking address.
boyd posited that privacy, contrary to some opinion, is NOT dead. It's simply more complicated than we realize. boyd suggested that there is a prevailing thought that privacy is a binary choice - that one chooses to give away all of their information, or chooses to be an online hermit. The truth of the matter is closer to real life interactions, where we have certain expectations about where the information we give to our peers will go.
Stating an opinion among a group of friends is not something that many people have a problem with. If that opinion is spread around, either through friends or by the amplification that is the hallmark of social aggregators, it can pierce the bubble of your small circle of friends, becoming fair game to any and all.
Privacy, boyd said, is really all about control. In real life, we share personally identifiable information as well as "personally embarrassing information," as boyd put it, with our friends, but we choose not to shout this information in front of every one of our social circles. "Wanting privacy isn't about having something to hide. It's about wanting control," she said. The public-by-default paradigm is not "the great democratizer" as social media companies presumed it would be - it's only served to violate users' privacy expectations.
We talk about privacy controls quite a lot here at CDT. Our Take Back Your Privacy campaign is an effort to do something about it. We want to make sure that everyone takes control of how, when and where they choose to share their information, to whom it's shared and the path it travels henceforth.