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May 03 2012

11:42

Consumer Reports’ moral panic

I’m very disappointed in Consumer Reports for falling into the moral panic about privacy and social services. Today it issues a survey and a Reefer Madness report that covers no new ground, only stirs it up, over privacy and Facebook. Let me address instead the survey. In its press release, Consumer Reports says — as if we should be shocked at these numbers — that:

* 39.3 million identified a family member in a profile. Do we really live in a world where it should be frightening to talk about our family?

* 20.4 million included their birth date and year in their profile. And so? People can wish you a happy birthday. I think that’s nice. I don’t see the harm.

* 7.7 million “liked” a Facebook page pertaining to a religious affiliation. Oh, ferchrissakes. This is a country where people wear their religious affiliations on their sleeves and T-shirts and bumpers and shout about it in their political arguments. This is a country that is founded on freedom of religion. Why the hell wouldn’t we talk about it?

* 4.6 million discussed their love life on their wall. What CR doesn’t say is how often that discussion is restricted to friends and how often it is public. And if it is public, so what. I’ll tell you I love my wife.

* 2.6 million discussed their recreational use of alcohol on their wall. IT’S LEGAL.

* 2.3 million “liked” a page regarding sexual orientation. And thank God for the progress against bigotry that indicates.

* The survey also said that 4.7 million people liked a Facebook page about a health condition. Well, I say that is a wonderful thing, finally taking illness out of the Dark Ages social stigma of secrecy and shame. It’s about time. This week, Facebook allowed us all to donate our organs — publicly or privately; our choice. In the first day, 100,000 new people signed up to do so. You know that I found benefit writing about my prostate and penis there. Who is Consumer Reports to imply that this publicness is a bad thing.

My fear is that such fear-mongering will lead to more regulation and a less open and free net.

Last night, a good friend of mine complained on Twitter that Google had knocked his 10-year-old son off when he revealed his age. My friend got mad at Google. Oh, no, I said, get mad at the FTC and COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) and its unintended consequences. It makes children lie about their ages and puts us in a position to teach them to lie. It had mnade children the worst-served sector of society online. The intentions are good. The consequences may not be.

That is the case with regulation of the net being proposed under the guises of privacy, piracy, pedophilia, decency, security, and civility. That is why we must defend an open net and its ability to foster a more open society. That is why I find the kind of mindless fear-mongering engaged in by Consumer Reports dangerous.

Consumer Reports is not fulfilling its mission to protect us with this campaign. It will hurt us.

February 08 2012

21:28

Economist debate on sharing

The Economist has just launched a debate between me and Andrew Keen — and you — on the proposition that society benefits when we share information online.” Here is my opening statement; follow the link for Andrew’s and the discussion:

* * *

We are sharing for good reason—not because we are insane, exhibitionistic, or drunk. We are sharing because, at last, we can, and we find benefit in it. Sharing is a social and generous act: it connects us, it establishes and improves relationships, it builds trust, it disarms strangers and stigmas, it fosters the wisdom of the crowd, it enables collaboration, and it empowers us to find, form and act as publics of our own making.

For individuals, sharing is a choice; that is the essence of privacy. Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, told me that before the net, we had “privacy through obscurity”. We had little chance to be public because we had little access to the tools of publicness: the press, the stage, the broadcast tower (their proprietors were last century’s 1%). Today, we have the opportunity to create, share and connect, and 845m people choose to do so on Facebook alone. Mr Zuckerberg says he is not changing their nature; he is enabling it.

I shared my prostate cancer—and, thus, my malfunctioning penis—online. Nothing bad came of this, only good: information, support from friends (who could not have known had I not been public) and the opportunity to inspire other men to be tested. Let me emphasise: that was my choice; no one should be forced to publicise their life.

But imagine if we did feel free to share our health data. Think of the correlations and possibly causes and cures we could find. Why don’t we? We fear losing insurance (though insurers already demand our data) or jobs (that is a matter of discrimination to handle legislatively).

Most of all, we fear stigma—though in this day and age why should anyone be ashamed of being sick? In the tension between secrecy and openness, these are the kinds of benefits we should be considering, balancing them with the risks as we adapt society’s norms to new realities and new opportunities.

Our institutions should share for different reasons. The wise company is opening up to build direct relationships with customers, to inoculate itself against the dreaded viral meme, and even to collaborate on the creation of products (see Local Motors’ cars, designed with customers).

Government must learn to share its work and knowledge with its citizens. It must become open by default and secret by necessity (and there are necessary secrets in relation to security, diplomacy, criminal investigations and citizens’ privacy). Today, government is instead secret by default and open by force (that of the journalist or the leaker).

If WikiLeaks has taught us nothing else, it is that no secret is safe and that too much government information has been classified as secret (consider the role of leaks in the Tunisian uprising and the subsequent Arab spring).

Openness is proving to be profoundly disruptive. When we share what we pay for goods, we ruin price opacity and retailers’ margins. When we share our frustration with government, we can start revolutions. This is why institutions—news, media, corporate, government, academic—often resist the draw of openness and fear its impact. And that is why we are seeing a sudden rise in efforts to regulate our greatest tool of publicness, the net, under the guises of piracy, privacy, security and decency.

Too much of the conversation about sharing today revolves around risks—risks to privacy (which does need protection, and it has many new protectors) and risks to intellectual property (though media companies need to learn that controlling scarcity will become an increasingly difficult business model to execute). We also need to have a discussion about the benefits of sharing and the tools that enable it, so we can protect their potential.

January 23 2012

22:34

Public Parts on Reding’s four pillars

Since European Commission VP Viviane Reding’s proposal for internet regulation — under her four pillars — are the topic of discussion this week at DLD in Munich and in Europe, here is what I wrote about them in Public Parts:

* * *

I fear the unintended consequences that may come from regulation. Take, for example, European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding’s four pillars of data protection, which she proposed in 2011. I have no argument with one of them: transparency. Companies that collect data should be open about when that is done and how information will be used.

Another pillar sounds attractive: “the right to be forgotten.” But how far does that go? If I post something about you on my blog or write about you in a news story—a quote I heard, the fact that I saw you somewhere, the fact that you did something in the open—can I be forced to erase—to forget—that? What then of my freedom of speech?

Another pillar is rhetorically appealing: “privacy by default.” But is that how we wish society to operate—closing in by reflex when we have so many new ways to open up? Flickr became a success, as I said earlier, because it was set to public by default. On a service designed for ­sharing—Facebook—what does complete privacy mean? Isn’t completely closed communication just email?

Reding’s last pillar would require EU-level protection no matter where a service operates or where data are held. That sets a dangerous precedent. It could mean that we would all be ruled by the most stringent controls in place anywhere in the world—the high-water mark of control. Can we bear China claiming the same right as the EU? We see a related problem today with so-called libel tourism in the U.K. Because its libel laws are unfriendly to defendants, targets of published criticism go there to file suit against writers and publishers. In a global internet, the EU’s effort to become privacy’s sanctum could affect us all.

On the one hand, I argue against regulation. On the other hand, I argue that the government should enforce net neutrality, and that is a form of regulation. Am I hypocritical? At South by Southwest in 2011, Senator Al Franken delivered a ringing endorsement of net neutrality. He argued that proponents of net neutrality are not trying to change the internet but to keep corporations from changing it, from making the net less free than it has been since its birth. “This is a First Amendment issue,” he said. “The internet is small-d democratic. Everyone has the same say.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, too, delivered a rousing defense of internet freedom in two speeches in 2010 and 2011. “In the last year, we’ve seen a spike in threats to the free flow of information. China, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan have stepped up their censorship of the internet,” she said in Washington just as the Tunisian revolt was brewing. “On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas…. The internet is a network that magnifies the power and potential of all others. And that’s why we believe it’s critical that its users are assured certain basic freedoms. Freedom of expression is first among them.”

The following year, in 2011, she delivered another speech extolling transparency and attacking censorship. But in the same speech, she also condemned WikiLeaks for its release of cables from her agency. “Let’s be clear,” she said, “this disclosure is not just an attack on America—it’s an attack on the international community.” The leaks “tear at the fabric” of government, she argued. Indeed, they soon tore at the fabric of Tunisia’s corrupt government.

January 22 2012

13:00

#DLD12: Viviane Reding on privacy

I’m at the DLD conference in Munich. Haven’t live-blogged in ages. But the European Commission vice-president Viviane Reding is speaking and I disagreed with her rather a lot in Public Parts, arguing that her four pillars for internet governance — privacy by default, demanding European standards for storage of data, the right to be forgotten, and transparency — bring unintended consequences.

Reding says that in “Europe, we have too many rules, too many conflicting rules.” So she wants to take over the rules for all Europe. Look at SOPA, too: There is a competition among governments to regulate the internet, to consolidate power.

“Persosnal data is the currency of today’s digital market. And like any currency, it needs stability and trust,” Reding says. Yes, but is government — which can most abuse our data — its best protector?

“Can we be sure that the rules we make today will fit tomorrow?” she asks. She says one cannot build rules that are too rigid; they need to be “futureproof.” But then, they also become very broad and that, too, has consequences.

She argues that following 27 separate sets of regulations costs 2.3 billion euros a year. Again, she justifies taking over local authority. But that is the EU.

She also calls for a smoother exchange of data among police authorities in the EU members to fight terrorism. Well, that sounds like the greatest threat to privacy I can imagine: all governments pooling what they know about you.

Reding says companies will be required to appoint data protection (privacy) officers. Thus the regulatory-industrial complex of the new privacy industry grows.

She says data-protection authorities need to be “independent” of politics. Does that mean they are above government by the people and representation?

Now to her “right to be forgotten.” It is a right, she says, to “withdraw permission” for data held by companies. I fear the implications for free speech. And on a practical level, how can one as a principle to tell people to no longer know what they know?

She says it is not an absolute right. “There are no absolute rights,” she says. She says it’s not a right to erase history or impact media. So this shows the problem with this notion, when one starts making exceptions for a principles.

Now she speaks about the debate about the freedom of the internet. She says the freedom of information and expression is a basic right and “this is directly linked to the freedom of internet, which has thus to be preserved. But those are not the only freedoms…. Sometimes one must balance freedom.” She claims the right of the creator (read: copyright) is “equally important.” Really? Higher than speech? But she says that Europe will never pass blocking legislation (read: SOPA).

No opportunity to question Reding. Shame.

Now a Microsoft guy is giving a talk and I cannot figure out what he’s trying to say. Otherwise, I’d blog it.

Next up, Andrew Keen. Polemic time. He reads a quote from Sheryl Sandberg about deeper portraits online. “I’m here as someone who is raising my voice in defense of lost privacy,” he says. But he doubts that Reding and government are the protectors.

He calls me a spokesman for “the cult of the social.” AKA society, I’d say.

He says we need to learn to live alone. Funny, but the internet was last accused of making us antisocial and now it’s accused of making us too social. It makes us neither. We make it.

Now Nick Bilton leads a panel asking the premise of his book: is privacy dead. Garg.

Odd how the topic of privacy has turned an internet conference into an anti-internet conference.

Nick asks 4Chan’s Chris Poole whether we “should allow anonymity on the net.” That’s how the net is built, Nick. It already is allowed. It is part and parcel of free speech.

I have no tongue left. I bit it off.

January 21 2012

16:08

Where Gutenberg worked

I took a detour on a trip to Europe so I could visit Mainz and the Gutenberg Museum, having become obsessed with the great man and his magnificent disruption as both an inventor and an entrepreneur.

It was awe-inspiring to stand before the first known page of his printing (a snippet from the Sibylline prophesy, found in the binding of another book). It’s not beautiful; betas rarely are. But next to it is the culmination of Gutenberg’s art in three of his his Bibles, his masterpieces.

Another case captured my imagination. In it were the indulgences the Catholic Church could make and sell at scale, thanks to printing. Next to them were three of Martin Luther’s pamphlets, which he could also print at scale and it is that scale that enabled him to so disrupt the Church.

Also in that case were political broadsides printed by Gutenberg’s successors–his funder, Johann Fust, who called the startup’s debt and took over the business–in a battle between two bishops in Mainz. I write in Public Parts:

The press quickly made an impact on the political structure of society. According to Albert Kapr’s definitive biography, Johann Gutenberg: The Man and his Invention, among the earliest nonreligious publications produced in the great man’s shop by his successors—Johann Fust and his son-in-law Peter Schöffer—were political pamphlets. A series of broadsides from each side of a church fight to control the city of Mainz were published on the same presses in 1461, demonstrating from the start that this tool of publicness, like most to follow, was neutral and agnostic. “All these pamphlets were aimed at gaining public support for the respective protagonists and defaming their opponents,” Kapr writes. “To the matériel of warfare—halberds, rapiers, swords, harquebuses and cannon—psychological weapons had been added, which could be delivered by means of the printing press.” Here we see publishing’s nascent role in the birth of media, propaganda and the public sphere they would influence.

On another floor was an exhibit about newspapers and their predecessors, including small publications called posts. Pardon my blog-centric view of that, but I quite like that on blogs, we also have posts. I was struck by the continuum of media on display there and the reminder that neither print nor newspapers were forever; they were each invented. Each may be replaced. Soon, I’ll post a piece I’ve been working on about Gutenberg as probably the first technology entrepreneur. In it, I note that printing by impressing ink on paper may be seeing its twilight, replaced by ink-jet technologies just as photography on paper has been replaced by digital.

Mind you, books and printing will not disappear. After my visit to the museum, I had the great privilege of having lunch with Bertram Schmidt-Friderichs, thanks to a connection made via Twitter by his wife and partner, Karin Schmidt-Friderichs. They run a wonderful small press, Verlag Hermann Schmidt Mainz, publishing and printing beautiful small books about art and typography. Where better in the world to do that? Bertram said that books will continue but as special, premium products. I agree. In that, they recapture Gutenberg’s original vision of print as beauty.

At the museum, I was lucky to be around as a TV crew was filming a demonstration of the technologies in Gutenberg’s pressroom. The press already existed for olives, grapes, and paper; Gutenberg had to adapt it for printing. Ink already existed, of course, but Gutenberg had to adapt that, too, to his needs. But his critical and unsung invention was the hand-held mold that enabled Gutenberg to make fonts–thousands of letters needed for the Bible–quickly and consistently. It required ingenious design and no small expertise in metallurgy and I was delighted to finally see one in action, below.

IMG_1220

January 19 2012

13:00

We are the lobbyists

The internet has helped untold publics to form. Yesterday, the internet became a public.

Or rather, millions of people who care about internet freedom used the net to organize and defend it against efforts to control and harm it.

The SOPA-PIPA blackout got attention in media that previously all but ignored the issue, whether out of conflict of interest or negligence. More important, it got political action as legislators — especially Republicans — tripped over themselves to back away from the Hollywood bailout.

In the discussion about the movement yesterday, I heard someone in Washington quoted, saying that these geeks should hire lobbyists like everyone else.

No, we’re all lobbyists now, and that’s just as it should be. This movement didn’t need influence peddlers. It didn’t need political commercials. It didn’t need media. It needed only citizens who give a shit. Democracy.

I’m delighted that the discussion rose to the level of principles, a discussion I’ve argued has to take place if we, the internet public, are to protect our tool of publicness.

There’s much more going on under this battle: the disruption of media business models, a fundamental change in our view of the value of content, the undercutting of institutions’ power, the lowering of national boundaries. But for now, nevermind that and concentrate on what was born yesterday: a political movement, a movement whose cause is freedom.

What else can this movement do? Can it elect candidates? Should it? Or should it continue to hold politicians’ feet to the fire? I don’t think I want to see the formation of an internet party. I don’t want this movement to mimic the way power used to be traded. I don’t want it to become an institution. I also don’t think it’s possible. I prefer to see it continuing to mimic #OccupyWallStreet, organizing without organizations (pace Shirky), discerning through interaction its principles and goals.

After yesterday, the powerful are on warning that a public can rise up out of nowhere to protest and pressure, to fight and win. Dell Hell taught companies to behave, to respect and listen to their customers, and better yet to collaborate with them. The SOPA blackout taught politicians to hear citizens directly, without mediators. Now we’ll see whether they can learn to collaborate as well.

January 14 2012

22:12

January 12 2012

01:57

Jon Stewart & SOPA (please)

Got to see The Daily Show taping tonight (more on that in a minute) and in the pre-show conversation with Jon Stewart, an audience member said he was sent by The Internet to ask about SOPA. Stewart professed (not feigned, I think) ignorance, asking whether that was net neutrality, and excusing himself, what with their “heads being up their asses” in the election and all. But he said he’d do his homework and he looked at writer Steve Bodow when he said that. Let’s hope he comes out loud.

Confidential to Mr. Stewart: The problem here is that [cough] your industry, entertainment, is trying to give power the power to blacklist and turn off sites if they’re so much as accused of “pirating” (their word, not ours) content. This changes the fundamental architecture of the net, giving *government* the power and means to kill sites for this and then other reasons. That threatens to destroy this, our greatest tool of publicness (book plug). So please, sir we need your force of virtue to beat down this, another evil. On behalf of The Internet, thank you.

December 30 2011

22:23

Very public health

Watching the remarkable Xeni Jardin tweet her mammogram and cancer diagnosis, then blog eloquently about it, then crowdsource opening up her own MRI data makes me ask: Why are we so secretive about sickness and health? And what do we lose because we are?

The answers to the first questions are fairly obvious. First, we keep our sicknesses secret, we say, because we fear we could lose insurance. Except insurance companies force us to reveal our medical histories anyway. And let’s hope that Obamacare — may it survive the Supreme Court — succeeds in outlawing the denial of health coverage due to preexisting conditions. Next, we fear that we could lose jobs. Except in cases where a condition would affect job safety, shouldn’t employers be told that they cannot discriminate on the basis of health? Whether or not society chooses to address these issues through legislation, my point is that it’s possible to do so.

The other reason we keep sickness secret — the bigger reason — is stigma. We don’t want people to know we’re ill. But in this day and age, why should anyone be ashamed of being sick? To be clear, I am not saying that anyone should ever be forced to reveal health information. But why should our norms, stigmas, and economic considerations force us not to reveal it?

Imagine if we didn’t feel compelled to hide our illnesses. Imagine if we could be open about our health. What good could come of that?

We could learn more about correlations, which could yield information about causation and even cures. Given large data sets, we could find out that people who get a disease share common behaviors or characteristics. We might gain the opportunity to discover an environmental cause to a local outbreak of, say, breast cancer, enabling a community to fix the condition and prevent more cases.

Of course, I want to emphasize the conditional: correlation *could* help. One data point is never meaningful: That I’ve contracted one heart condition and two cancers since being at the World Trade Center on 9/11 is meaningless — unless there are many others in the same boat, and even then, one mustn’t jump to conclusions about causation. Still, more data is always better than less.

With openness about health, we could do a better job connecting people who share conditions to get information and support and each other. I am on the board of Learning Ally, formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, and at our last meeting, I was struck by the barriers that stigmas put in the way of young people getting the organization’s help. I heard how getting our software on iPods has helped more kids use the service because they no longer have to carry around a special device that marks them as different — stigma. I heard a mother say that school officials warned her that her child would be labeled — stigma — if she got him appropriate services, but she said she’d eagerly embrace the label if it got her son the help he needed.

On my blog, I’ve been in a debate about the recommendation by a government panel that men shouldn’t be given the blood test for prostate cancer anymore because, statistically, it hasn’t been shown to save lives. That’s because medical science can’t yet distinguish between fast- and slow-growing prostate cancer. I say men should get the test. I say we should be talking openly about our prostates as women have fought to talk about breast cancer. More information and communication is always better than less.

The real question is what men choose to do when they find out — through a biopsy following the blood test — that they have cancer. Perhaps more men should choose what the doctors call watchful waiting over surgery. But, you see, the problem is that we don’t have *enough* data to make a good decision. I want to know, based on the largest possible population, how long it took prostate cancer to spread after it was found. Then I could decide how long to watch and wait. But I don’t have that information. So I chose to get the cancer out of me. I could make that choice only because I had the test. I had my own data. If I had the data of millions more men, I could make wiser decisions.

How could get get more data?

Step one is to encourage men to talk about their prostates — and, yes, sorry, their penises — so we disarm the stigma about it and get more men to be aware and get tested and share their experience.

Step two is to create the means to open up and share as much health information as possible so researchers, doctors, and hackers can dig into it and find correlations and patterns and questions worth pursuing, perhaps leading to answers.

When I talk about the principles of an open society in Public Parts, this is what I mean. Rather than reflexively declaring that sharing information about ourselves — our bodies as well as our thoughts and actions — is dangerous, we must stand back and ask what benefit could come from such data, now that we have better technological means to open it up, gather it, and analyze it.

Only then can we balance the benefits and risks and decide, as a society, how open we want to be, how open we should and need to be — and why. That is the kind of discussion about privacy and our changing norms I’d like to hear. Let’s not just talk about what can go wrong now but also what could go right.

December 19 2011

15:15

FTC Fines Santa Claus Over COPPA Violations

WASHINGTON–Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz today announced a record fine against Santa Claus for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

“Mr. Claus has flagrantly violated children’s privacy, collecting their consumer preferences for toys and also tracking their behavior so as to judge and maintain a data base of naughtiness and niceness,” Leibowitz said. “Worse, he has tied this data to personally identifiable information, including any child’s name, address, and age. He has solicited this information online, in some cases passing data to third parties so they may fulfill children’s wishes. According to unconfirmed reports, he has gone so far as to invade children’s homes in the dead of night. He has done this on a broad scale, unchallenged by government authorities for too long.”

Claus was fined $2 million and ordered to end any contact with children. Prior COPPA fines include $1 million against now-virtually-unknown social site Xanga, $400,000 against UMG Recordings, and $35,000 against notorious toymaker Etch-a-Sketch.

The FTC action follows similar complaints against Claus brought by European privacy authorities. European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding has complained about Claus holding data on children outside of EU data-protection standards in North Pole server farms. German head of consumer protection Ilse Aigner has called for an investigation of Claus’ use of Google Street View in navigating his Christmas Eve visits. German Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information Peter Schaar has demanded that Claus give children, naughty or nice, the right to be forgotten in his data base. And Thilo Weichert, head of the privacy protection office in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, demanded that German web sites take down any Facebook “Like” button referring to Claus.

Meanwhile, Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has attempted to bring together an international coalition of privacy officers opposed to Claus’ practices. In California, Claus has been threatened with severe penalties for nonpayment of the state sales tax. And the UK has vowed that Claus will be detained and could face extradition should he set foot in any English chimneys on Christmas Eve.

Reaction to the FTC decision was mixed in Washington. Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry vowed to kill the Federal Trade Commission, relieved that he had finally recalled the final agency he had marked for death. Rival Newt Gingrich suggested that Claus apply for U.S. citizenship, “having contributed much to U.S. industry by stimulating greed at all ages; we need more Clauses and more spending to fix this Democrat-ruined economy.” Ron Paul suggested that Claus set up a Liberatarian nation at the North Pole and offered to run for office there. Herman Cain, whose candidacy remains on hold after allegations of sexual improprieties, said that he “always wondered why the old coot didn’t get in hot water for plopping kiddies on his lap; seemed a lot creepier than anything I ever did.” President Barack Obama refused comment.

From his North Pole headquarters, Claus said through a spokesman that he endeavored only to fulfill children’s dreams. “I regret that the world has come to this: treating any adult who wants to make a child happy as a dangerous stranger,” he said. “The problem with our modern world is not technology but fear, suspicion, and cynicism.” He vowed to continue his Christmas mission of joy. “What’s the worst they can do to me?” he asked, “cookie me?”

Contact: Elfelman Public Relations
Photo via Dreadcentral

August 26 2011

19:47

Privacy obsession or publicness: what we miss

Fortune :: Privacy has its advocates. Jeff Jarvis has made himself an advocate for publicness. In Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way we Work and Live, the original Internet optimist argues that if we become too obsessed with guarding all personal information on the 'Net, we'll miss important opportunities that come with making information available.

Continue to read features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com

July 24 2011

19:05

#fuckyouwashington

So I was angry. Watching TV news over dinner — turning my attention from scandals in the UK to those here and frankly welcoming the distraction from the tragedies in Norway — I listened to the latest from Washington about negotiations over the debt ceiling. It pissed me off. I’d had enough. After dinner, I tweeted: “Hey, Washington assholes, it’s our country, our economy, our money. Stop fucking with it.” It was the pinot talking (sounding more like a zinfandel).

That’s all I was going to say. I had no grand design on a revolution. I just wanted to get that off my chest. That’s what Twitter is for: offloading chests. Some people responded and retweeted, which pushed me to keep going, suggesting a chant: “FUCK YOU WASHINGTON.” Then the mellifluously monikered tweeter @boogerpussy suggested: “.@jeffjarvis Hashtag it: #FUCKYOUWASHINGTON.” Damn, I was ashamed I hadn’t done that. So I did.

And then it exploded as I never could have predicted. I egged it on for awhile, suggesting that our goal should be to make #fuckyouwashington a trending topic, though as some tweeters quickly pointed out, Twitter censors moderates topics. Soon enough, though, Trendistic showed us gaining in Twitter share and Trendsmap showed us trending in cities and then in the nation.

Screen shot 2011-07-24 at 7.33.24 AM

Jeff Howe tweeted: “Holy shit, @JeffJarvis has gone all Howard Beale on us. I love it. And I feel it. Give us our future back, fuckers. #FUCKYOUWASHINGTON.” He likes crowded things. He’s @crowdsourcing. He became my wingman, analyzing the phenom as it grew: “Why this is smart. Web=nuance. Terrible in politics. Twitter=loud and simple. Like a bumper sticker. #FuckYouWashington.” He vowed: “If this trends all weekend, you think it won’t make news? It will. And a statement. #FuckYouWashington.”

And then I got bumped off Twitter for tweeting too much. Who do the think they are, my phone company? Now I could only watch from afar. But that was appropriate, for I no longer owned this trend. As Howe tweeted in the night: “Still gaining velocity. Almost no tweets containing @crowdsourcing or @jeffjarvis anymore. It’s past the tipping point. #FuckYouWashington.”

Right. Some folks are coming into Twitter today trying to tell me how to manage this, how I should change the hashtag so there’s no cussin’ or to target their favorite bad man, or how I should organize marches instead. Whatever. #fuckyouwashington not mine anymore. That is the magic moment for a platform, when its users take it over and make it theirs, doing with it what the creator never imagined.

Now as I read the tweets — numbering in the tens of thousands by the next morning — I am astonished how people are using this Bealesque moment to open their windows and tell the world their reason for shouting #fuckyouwashington. It’s amazing reading. As @ericverlo declared, “The #fuckyouwashington party platform is literally writing itself.” True, they didn’t all agree with each other, but in their shouts, behind their anger, they betrayed their hopes and wishes for America.

@partygnome said: “#fuckyouwashington for valuing corporations more than people.”

@spenski, on a major role, cried: “#fuckyouwashington for never challenging us to become more noble, but prodding us to become selfish and hateful…. #fuckyouwashington for not allowing me to marry the one I love…. #fuckyouwashington for driving me to tweet blue.”

@jellencollins: “#fuckyouwashington for making ‘debt’ a four letter word and ‘fuck’ an appropriate response.”

@tamadou: “#fuckyouwashington for giving yourselves special benefits and telling the American people they have to suck it up or they’re selfish.”

@psychnurseinwi: “#fuckyouwashington for having the compromising skills of a 3 year old.”

I was amazed and inspired. I was also trepidatious. I didn’t know what I’d started and didn’t want it to turn ugly. After all, we had just witnessed the ungodly horror of anger — and psychosis — unleashed in Norway. I’ve come to believe that our enemy today isn’t terrorism but fascism of any flavor, hiding behind anger as supposed cause.

But at moments such as this, I always need to remind myself of my essential faith in my fellow man — that is why I believe in democracy, free markets, education, journalism. It’s the extremists who fuck up the world and it is our mistake to manage our society and our lives to their worst, to the extreme. That, tragically, is how our political system and government are being managed today: to please the extremes. Or rather, that is why they are not managed today. And that is why I’m shouting, to remind Washington that its *job* is to *manage* the *business* of government.

The tweets that keep streaming in — hundreds an hour still — restore my faith not in government but in society, in us. Oh, yes, there are idiots, extremists, and angry conspiracy theorists and just plain jerks among them. But here, that noise was being drowned out by the voices of disappointed Americans — disappointed because they do indeed give a shit.

Their messages, their reasons for shouting #fuckyouwashington and holding our alleged leaders to higher expectations, sparks a glimmer of hope that perhaps we can recapture our public sphere. No, no, Twitter won’t do that here any more than it did it in Egypt and Libya. Shouting #fuckyouwashington is hardly a revolution. Believe me, I’m not overblowing the significance of this weekend’s entertainment. All I’m saying is that when I get to hear the true voice of the people — not the voice of government, not the voice of media, not a voice distilled to a number following a stupid question in a poll — I see cause for hope.

I didn’t intend this to be anything more than spouting off in 140 profane characters. It turns out that the people of Twitter taught me a lesson that I thought I was teaching myself in Public Parts, about the potential of a public armed with a Gutenberg press in every pocket, with its tools of publicness.

* * *

For an excellent summary of the saga as it unfolded on Twitter, see Maryann Batlle’s excellent compilation in Storify, as well as Gavin Sheridan’s Storyful. CBS News Online’s What’s Trending was the first in media to listen to what was happening here. David Weigel used this as a jumping off point for his own critique of Washington and the debt “crisis” at Slate. Says Michael Duff on his blog:

Everybody knows you guys are running the clock out, waiting for the next election. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t go on TV to scare the shit out of us every day and then expect us to wait patiently for 2012.

You can’t use words like “urgent” and “crisis” and then waste our time with Kabuki theater.

Either the situation is urgent and needs to be solved now, or it’s all just an act that can wait for 2012. This isn’t 1954, gentlemen. The voters are on to you now. We know you’re playing a game and we know you’re using us as chess pieces.

That’s why #fuckyouwashington is trending on Twitter. We’re tired of being pawns.

Every politician in Washington needs to pay attention to this outrage, and remember who they’re working for.

And then there’s this reaction from no less than Anonymous: “@jeffJarvis you’ve started a shit storm. Nice going.”

July 08 2011

03:18

A true threat to privacy

Among the most deliberate and abhorrent mass violations of privacy committed in recent memory did not come as a result of technology, social services, databases, hackers, thieves, leakers, or governments. It was an act of a news organization, News Corp., which hacked into the phones of a reported 4,000 people, including not just celebrities but dead children and the families of the victims of terrorism and war.

Power corrupts.

The oh-so-rich irony is that this comes from the same company that, through its Wall Street Journal, fancies itself the protector of our privacy. The Journal would have us believe that web sites, technology companies, advertisers, and retailers are the enemies of privacy. No, it was their own corporate colleagues, their fellow journalists.

The solution to this threat to privacy is not to change technology or even the law. It is to enforce the laws, norms, and mores that already exist and hold to account the criminals and those responsible for their actions. That is, the managers of News Corp. That is, the Murdoch family.

This is not a matter of technology but of corruption.

Killing the offending News of the World is — I agree with the Guardian — a deeply cynical act. Some relatively small number of the paper’s employees was responsible for these acts — they’re presumed to be gone already. Now all of them are out of a job. Now a 168-year-old newspaper is dead — and it’s not as if we have any to spare. But the bosses responsible for the coverup remain.

The Murdochs apparently believe that they have amputated the offending limb and that’s that. But the toxin still flows in the bloodstream.

Mind you, I’m not your stock Murdoch basher. I worked for News Corp. in the ’90s, when I was TV critic at TV Guide when the company owned it and launched a magazine there and then went to work briefly at Delphi Internet when the company bought it (escaping in the nick of time before the first of many News Corp. internet disasters ensued). When News Corp. bought Dow Jones, I told reporters that I had not seen interference from Murdoch the way I had at revered Time Inc. That is to say, I defended Murdoch.

A further disclosure: My next book, Public Parts, was to be published, like my last one, by News Corp.’s HarperCollins. But I pulled the book because in it, I am very critical of the parent company for being so closed. It’s now being published by Simon and Schuster.

One more disclosure: I write for and have consulted for the Guardian, which has dogged this story brilliantly and triumphally.

Now having said all that, I’ll say this: News Corp. and its culture are simply corrupt. I’ll ask you this: Could you imagine such crimes occurring at Google? Wouldn’t these crimes mortally damage its brand? Could you imagine News Corp. taking Google’s pledge to do no evil? Those are rhetorical questions. The answers are obvious.

I’m most appalled that News Corp.’s crimes occur under the banner of journalism. Ah, professional journalism, which holds itself up above the supposedly nonexistent standards of bloggers and mere citizens and witnesses. Journalism, here to protect, educate, inform, and represent us.

I doubt we’ll end up with a Nixonian moment: What did Rupert know and when did he know it? But we can’t say the same for his son, James. See the Guardian’s annotation of James’ statement today (a new form of journalism, by the way), which only raises more questions. He is in charge of News International, the offending division. He is set to take over the company. The company is almost set to take over Sky.

I’m generally a critic of regulating speech and thus media. But the UK regulates media and I can’t imagine a better time to do so. What will the government do? If it allows the Sky acquisition to go through, then it makes a lie and laugh of its authority. Meanwhile, what can the profession do to amputate this diseased arm, News Corp.?

I know I sound strident here. I know some will properly accuse me of being late to the bonfire, having just confessed that I’d defended Murdoch. But the two go together. I was willing to give the Murdochs their rope. Now they’ve hung themselves with it.

The story’s a long way away from America. But News Corp. isn’t. Now all of us who live under its influence deserve to ask what they will do to fix the company’s corrupt culture that allowed these crimes. We can ask. But I don’t expect answers.

June 30 2011

14:57

Social is for sharing, not hiding

I fear we are on the verge of fetishizing privacy. Well, we’re not — but our media and government are.

Media’s assumptions

Yesterday I got a call from a journalist about Google+ and its Circles. He was not at all hostile to Google, Facebook, or social, but even so, implicit in his questions was a presumption that privacy is our highest priority in social services.

Think about that for half a minute and the absurdity of it becomes apparent. We don’t come to social services to hide secrets; that would be idiotic. We come to share.

The journalist said that people must be afraid of being public. Think about that for the rest of a minute: Media and government have held a monopoly on publicness as they have owned the megaphone and soapbox. Now the internet gives the rest of us the ability to be public and these long-public people think we are scared of what the have? How patronizing of them.

The meme about Google+ Circles is that it beats Facebook on privacy because it gives us upfront control over whom we share with. That’s true: Every time I share something I make a decision about whether to share it with the public or some of my circles. That is better, clearer, and easier than digging into Facebook’s settings once and for all to silo my world. It is better than not bothering to change those settings and depending on Facebook’s defaults, only to find them change and become more public. Google+ got to learn from Facebook and start with Circles to enable this difference.

Except I have watched my own behavior with Google+ lo, these 36 hours and I find at when I share with less than everyone it is not out of privacy or security needs. It’s out of relevance. I may have something to tell my TWiT colleagues or my fellow journowonks that would bore everyone else who follows me. So I restrict my audience not to keep a secret but to reduce noise for them, which I can’t do on Twitter or can’t easily do on Facebook. I am still sharing; it’s better sharing.

The journalist talked about Zuckerberg and Google wanting us to share — and they do because, as I’ve said, they depend on getting us to generate more signals about our interests, needs, and desires so they can gi e us more relevant, thus valuable content, services, and advertising. But in the journalist’s phrasing I heard him implying that Zuckerberg and Page were squeezing stuff out of like toothpaste tubes, against our wills.

Nonsense. As I say in Public Parts, 600 million people can’t be wrong. We are sharing a billion things a day on Facebook alone because we want to, because we find value in it. That’s where the discussion should begin, with the power of publicness, not with the presumption of privacy.

Government’s presumptions

I was delighted yesterday to see a senator — Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — warn his colleagues against “breaking the internet.”

Some are in such a rush to regulate the net and protect what they and media think is our highest priority — privacy — that they threaten to both hamper how sites and services and operate and how they can sustain themselves.

Jay Rockefeller is pushing do-not-track. John Kerry and John McCain have a privacy bill. Al Franken has a bill to limit sharing of location data with third parties (those “third parties” are becoming the boogeymen of the digital age, though they are often just companies that serve ads, provide web services such as analytics, and sell us stuff).

I’m not suggesting that all this legislation is bad. We do need privacy protections. Sites must give us greater and clearer control over what we share to whom and why (as Google seems to have done with its Circles). Phones should not be storing information about what we do without our knowledge and without giving us control over it. Stipulated.

But I fear unintended consequences. Rockefeller’s do-not-track could pull the advertising rug out from under web sites, forcing some of them to go behind a pay wall — if they can — and killing other sites, reducing the content on the web. Franken’s location bill, I learned this week, does not have a carve out for sending data to ad-servers (they are dreaded “third parties”), which could kneecap the local-mobile content industry before it even starts.

Politicians and media companies are coming at these questions at the wrong starting line: as if we go to the internet to take a piece of private information and squirrel it away there. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re sharing.

March 08 2011

14:51

One identity or more?

Given the discussion about Facebook enabling other sites to use its comment infrastructure — and what that means for identity and anonymity in discussion — I thought I’d share some of what I’m saying about the question of multiple identities in my book, .

* * *

One tactic to cope with the fear of exposure and overexposure is anonymity. Anonymity has its place. It protects the speech of Chinese dissidents, Iranian protestors, and corporate whistleblowers. It allows Wikileaks to expose secrets. It helps people share, for example, medical data and benefit others without having to reveal themselves. It lets people play with new identities. When the game company Blizzard Entertainment tried to bring real identity into the forums around its massive, multi-player games, including World of WarCraft, players revolted, and no wonder: Who wants everyone to know that in your other life, you see yourself as a level 80 back-stabbing night elf rogue who ganks lowbies at the Crossroads? Taking on identities—pseudonymity—is the fun of it.

But anonymity is often the cloak of cowards. Anonymous trolls—of the human race, not the WarCraft type—attack people online, lobbing snark at Julia Allison, spreading rumors and lies about public figures, sabotaging a politician’s Wikipedia page, or saying stupid stuff in the comments on my blog. I tell commenters there that I will respect what they have to say more if they have the guts to stand behind their own words with their own names, as I do.

Real identity has improved the tone and tenor of interaction online. That was Facebook’s key insight. Twitter’s, too. Tweeters want credit for their cleverness; they are rewarded with followers and retweets, their nanoseconds of microfame. Facebook is built on real relationships with real people in real life. “The whole thing was based on this foundation of reality,” Mark Zuckerberg says in an interview. “That doesn’t mean that every single thing is true. But on balance, I think it’s a lot more real than other things on the internet. In that way, I think, yes, it does create authenticity.”

Zuckerberg believes we have one authentic identity and says it is becoming “less and less true” that people will maintain separate identities. Emily Gould, admitted oversharer, agrees. Julia Allison, on the other hand, sides with those who say we should maintain many identities—one for work, another for school, another for home, another for friends. Those folks say we get in trouble online when these identities mix and blur, when our boss sees our picture from the college beer party (as if bosses never had beer). In a New York Times Magazine piece arguing that “the internet records everything and forgets nothing,” Jeffrey Rosen tells the story of a 25-year-old student-teacher who was deprived of her diploma after posting a MySpace photo of herself drinking over the caption, “Drunken Pirate.” On his blog, Scott Rosenberg counters that “the photo is harmless; the trouble lies with the people who have turned it into a problem.”

What needs to change is not so much our behavior, our rules, or our technology but, again, our norms: how we operate as a society and interact with each other. When presented with someone’s public face, which may differ from our own, is our response to disapprove, condemn, ridicule, and snipe, or is it to try to understand differences, offer empathy, overlook foolishness, offer freedom, and share in kind? When we do the former—and we all have—we are guilty of intolerance, sometimes bigotry. When we do the latter we become open-minded. I suggested in my last book that because we are all more public, we will soon operate under the doctrine of mutually assured humiliation: I’ll spare you making fun of your embarrassing pictures if you’ll do the same for me. “An age of transparency,” says author David Weinberger, “must be an age of forgiveness.”

There are two forces at work here: identity and reputation. Our identities are the first-person expressions of ourselves. Our reputations are others’ third-person views of us. Thanks to our increasing publicness, the two are coming closer and sometimes into conflict. As I was discussing these topics on my blog, Weinberger left a sage comment wondering about what he called the private-public axis:

Marilyn Monroe was a public figure but most of us are private citizens. That used to be pretty easy to compute and, because of the nature of the broadcast medium, it used to tend toward one extreme or another: He’s Chevy Chase and you’re not. But there’s another private-public axis: who we really are and how we look to others. We have tended to believe, at least in the West, that our true self is the inner self. The outer, public self may or may not reflect our inner, private self, and we have an entire moral/normative vocabulary to talk about the relation of the two: sincerity, authenticity, integrity, honesty….

Those are the two identities we are trying to manage—not our work selves and our home selves, not our party selves and our serious selves, but our inner, real selves and our outer, show selves. When our inner and outer selves get into conflict and confusion, we look inauthentic and hypocritical. In all our spoken fears about privacy and publicness, I think this is the great unspoken fear: that we’re not who people think we are, and we’ll be found out.

These are new skills for everyone, celebrity and commoner alike. Marilyn Monroe never had to deal with blogs and Twitter, let alone 24-hour TV news. She had press agents to create and manage her identity and big, frightening security people to keep the scary strangers away. Today, stars and pols have to deal with being constantly exposed. When they are caught in a contradiction of words or deeds—not exactly a challenge—they suffer the gotcha. Then again, stars like Ashton Kutcher, Lady Gaga, and Howard Stern are grabbing the opportunity on Twitter to interact directly with their publics without scripts or PR people in-between. Reputation.com, which makes a business out of helping people whose online reputation is being harmed by others, suggests that the solution is not to hide but to publish more about yourself so that will rise in Google’s search about you. The way to improve your reputation is to share more of your identity.

The best solution is to be yourself. If that makes you uneasy, talk with your shrink. Better yet, blog about it.

February 25 2011

13:03

Public Parts subtitle help

Friends, I need help choosing a subtitle for Public Parts, my book. You all were helpful with What Would Google Do? (which I initially wanted to call WWGD?, but the publisher fought me and you convinced me the publisher was right). Many of you have already been helpful with great suggestions via Twitter (some inspired some of these candidates).

The book is about the value of publicness. It’s about technology, change, privacy, fear, and protection as well. But I try hard not to pit private against public. Instead, I argue that when we make choices about what to make public or private and how we build the tools and laws that enable or regulate t hat, we need to include in the equation in the benefits of publicness. We also need to protect our new tools of publicness. I interview Mark Zuckerberg, danah boyd, Ev Willliams, Dennis Crowley, Philip Kaplan, Josh Harris, Eric Schmidt, Elizabeth Eisenstein, and more. I explore the history of privacy (and its definitions) and the development of our notions of the public.I also explore the progression of the tools of publicness. It’s a book about choices and optimism. I also talk about lessons from my public life. And saunas. (My editor, @bloehnen, will write much better jacket copy than that, but it gives you an idea.)

Here’s the shortlist of subtitles (not listed in any order so as not to prejudice you with the preferences of me and my editor and publisher). The main title, Public Parts, I already like (and, yes, it’s a bit of an homage to Howard Stern). Please weigh in with a discussion in the comments. If you have a new suggestion, what the hell, by all means add that. And if you have a great idea for imagery, that’s next.

PUBLIC PARTS
An Exposé

[Hat tip to @chrisgordon77]

PUBLIC PARTS
What Happens When Companies, Governments, and People Let It All Hang Out

(Variations: Should “people” be “all of us” or “individuals” or “you”?)
[Hat tip to @txhoudini for inspiration]

PUBLIC PARTS
If We’re So Worried About Privacy, Why Do We Share a Billion Times a Day?

(Variation: take off the first clause)

PUBLIC PARTS
Privacy and Fear, Openness and Opportunity

PUBLIC PARTS
The Private Self, The Public Sphere, and Principles for a New Society

PUBLIC PARTS
Exposing Ourselves for Fun, Profit, and a Brighter Future
[Hat tip to @zekeweeks]

Thank you!

February 24 2011

12:56

The distraction trope

In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland is the latest curmudgeon to recycle Nick Carr’s distraction trope, microwave it, and serve it with gravy. The argument is that Twitter—though possibly a wonderful thing for Egyptian revolutionaries (we can argue that trope another day)—is distracting us Westerners from our important work of deep reading and deep thinking and something simply must be done. We have a crisis of concentration brought on by a crisis of distraction, he tells us. Some I respect react and call this matter urgent.

Bollocks, as my Guardian friends would say.

I want you to think back with me now—I’m hypnotizing you, which should alleviate the stress of distraction, at least momentarily—to the moment in 1994 or soon thereafter when you discovered the World Wide Web and a new activity: browsing. Didn’t we all, every one of us, waste hours—days, even—aimlessly, purposelessly clicking links from one site to the next, not knowing where we would go and then not knowing where our hours went? Oh my God, we would never get anything done again, we fretted. We are all too distracted. We were hypnotized.

I know from market research I did that back then that it was not long before browsing diminished and died as our main behavior online. We became directed in our searches. We came to web looking for something, got it, and moved on. That’s partly because the tools improved: Yahoo gave us a directory; brands took on the role of serving expected content; Google gave us search. But this change in behavior came mainly because we got over the newness of browsing and had other, more important things to do and we learned how to prioritize our time again.

It is ever thus. Think back to the early days of TV and cable: My God, with so much to watch, will be ever get anything done? The exact same argument can be made—indeed, one wishes it were made—about books: With so many of them unread, how can we possibly ever do anything else? But, of course, we do.

Twitter addiction shall pass. Have faith—faith in your fellow man and woman. I was busy doing other things yesterday, important things, and so I pretty much did not tweet. I survived without it. So, I’m depressed to say, did all of you without me. I just wrote in my book that Twitter indeed created a distraction to writing the book, as I was tempted by the siren call of the conversation that never ends. But it also helped with my writing that I always had ready researchers and editors, friends willing to help when I got stuck or needed inspiration.

Twitter is a tool to manage and we learn how to do that, once the new-car smell wears off. That’s exactly what has happened with blogging. And here is the moment the curmudgeons triumphally declare the triumphalists wrong and blogging—which, remember, was also going to destroy us—dead or dying. What killed blogging? Twitter. Ah, the circle of life, the great mandala.

But I can guarantee that the distraction trope will be pulled out of the refrigerator and reheated again and again as the curmudgeons raise alarms about the destructive power of the next shiny thing. I’m loving reading a long-awaited new book by the esteemed Gutenberg scholar Elizabeth Eisenstein. In Divine Art, Infernal Madness, she takes us back to exact same arguments over the printing press among the “triumphalists” and the “catastrophists.” That is perhaps better title for our curmudgeons. She quotes Erasmus arguing that

the benefits of printing were almost eclipsed by complaints about increased output: swarms of new books were glutting the market and once venerated authors were being neglected. “To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarms of new books?… the very multitude of them is hurting scholarship, because it creates a glut, and even in good things satiety is most harmful.” The minds of men “flighty and curious of anything new” are lured “away from the study of old authors.”

And isn’t really their fear, the old authors, that they are being replaced? Control in culture is shifting.

What are our catastrophists really saying when they argue that Twitter is ruining us and Western (at least) civilization? They are branding us all sheeple. Ah, but you might say: Jarvis, aren’t you and your triumphalists making similarly overbroad statements when you say that these tools unlock new wonders in us? Perhaps. But there is a fundamental difference in our claims.

We triumphalists—I don’t think I am one but, what the hell, I’ll don the uniform—argue that these tools unlock some potential in us, help us do what we want to do and better. The catastrophists are saying that we can be easily led astray to do stupid things and become stupid. One is an argument of enablement. One is an argument of enslavement. Which reveals more respect for humanity? That is the real dividing line. I start with faith in my fellow man and woman. The catastrophists start with little or none.

Ah, but some will say, these tools are neutral. They can be used by bad actors as well. That’s certainly true. but bad actors are usually already bad. The tools don’t make them bad.

Take the Great Distractor of the age: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. The real debate over him in The Social Network and among privacy regulators and between catastrophists and triumphalists is about his motives. I write in Public Parts:

If, as the movie paints him, he acts out of his own cynical goals—getting attention, getting laid, getting rich—then manipulating us to reveal ourselves smells of exploitation. But if instead he has a higher aim—to help us share and connect and to make the world more open—then it’s easier to respect him, as Jake [my son] and I do. . . .

There is the inherent optimism that fuels the likes of him: that with the right tools and power in the right hands, the world will keep getting better. “On balance, making the world more open is good,” Zuckerberg says. “Our mission is to make the world more open and connected.” The optimist has to believe in his fellow man, in empowering him more than protecting against him. . . .

He believes he is creating the tools that help people to do what they naturally want to do but couldn’t do before. In his view, he’s not changing human nature. He’s enabling it.

I talked with Ev Williams at Twitter and he says similar things. He’s not trying to distract us to death. (That would be Evil Ev.) He’s trying to help us connect with each other and information, instantly, relevantly. (That is Good Ev.) It’s up to us how we use the tool well—indeed, we the community of users are the ones who helped invent the power of @ and # and $ and RT to refine the gift Ev et al gave us. I heard a similar mission from Dennis Crowley at Foursquare: helping us make serendipitous connections we otherwise wouldn’t.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the one who started this whole mess in the beginning (damn you, Sir!) is trying to push all the toolmakers to the next level, to better understand the science of what they are doing and to unlock the data layer of our world. Wonderful possibilities await—if you believe that the person next to you isn’t a distractable dolt but instead someone with unmet potential. There’s the real argument, my friends. And you are my friends, for remember that I’m the one who respects you.

February 18 2011

15:50

The privacy industry: Scare and sell

At two privacy conferences—one in New York, the other right now in Victoria, B.C.—I’ve watched the growth of privacy’s regulatory/industrial complex and seen its strategy in action: scare, then sell.

Yesterday, before I spoke at the Reboot conference, the privacy commissioner for the province, Elizabeth Denham, got up to demonize the social net and its leaders. She said that Google’s Eric Schmidt believes privacy is not relevant anymore, citing his jokes about changing our names at age 21. She belittled Mark Zuckerberg, too. She bragged about helping to bring Facebook to accounts when she was in the federal privacy office. And she gloated about the fizzle of Google Buzz. Then she boasted about adding more regulators to her office and getting more resources. Scare and spend.

At a later panel, I saw a vendor go through his PowerPoint showing the growth of so many outlets of social media. He said 500 million people were using Facebook. Then he paused … dramatically. Then he said, “scary.” Why is that scary? He didn’t say. He talked about watching YouTube videos as if that could be harmful in and of itself. How? He didn’t say. That’s how the discussion of the social web has advanced in this industry: all you have to do is say people are using these mysterious tools and the fear is assumed. But then he sold his service. Scare, then sell.

I spoke with the head of an association of chief privacy officers. Boy, I said, I’ll bet your membership is growing. In increments of a thousand, he said. He also noted how the growth in the U.S. is in privacy officers while in Europe it’s in privacy regulators.

I saw the two come together at the other conference, MediaBistro’s in New York, when the head of a privacy advocacy organization issued his fearsome spectres for the crowd of companies and regulators. It becomes a self-powering machine: The privacy advocate feeds the regulators arguments to be scared and regulate more, then companies think they need more privacy services, and more companies are born to provide them—companies that set up booths here in Victoria. One handed out a slick magazine with the big cover billing: “Social Media RISKS: Four Areas You Must Examine At Your Company.”

In the draft of my book Public Parts—which I’m furiously editing now—I had not gone after privacy’s regulatory/industrial complex. I’m trying hard not to pit privacy and publicness against each other as they are not binary; one depends upon the other in a continuum of choices we all make.

But the emergence of Privacy, Inc., as a industry built on scaring people is beginning to scare me.

In my talk yesterday, I warned of unintended consequences of too much regulation enacted too quickly. I cited Germany’s Verpixelungsrecht, its blurring of images in Google Street View and the precedent that sets for others taking pictures in public of public views.

I also worry that efforts to bring in a Do Not Track list and other demonization of ad targeting could cripple the revenue of the media and news industries even as they struggle to find sustainability; it could kill news outlets and reduce journalism.

At the final panel I attended, moderated by Denham, I saw execs from trade groups and Yahoo as well as a reasonable friend from Ottawa’s privacy office talk about meaningful efforts that are being made to be more transparent about advertising, which—lord knows—is needed.

The ad and media industries have been damned fools, not being open enough about what they do and how they do it and the value that comes to them—in higher ad rates—and much more importantly to the public—in relevance (and less noise). But Yahoo showed off a good tool to see and change how you are being targeted. The Canadian Interactive Advertising Bureau put forward a good framework for self-regulation. FutureOfPrivacy.org gave good advice about seeing past tools and disclosures and making advertising actually worthwhile for consumers.

Denham, to her credit, asked the panel to define bad regulation. They said it’s taking a narrow issue and using broad strokes to regulate it, doing collateral damage. She came to the view of regulation I’ve learned from danah boyd: that we need to concentrate on controlling use of data more than the gathering of it. (It’s illogical, indeed impossible, to tell people what they may not know; it’s logical and feasible to tell them what they may not do with what they know.)

So at the end of the day, I felt a bit better. But I fear that the reasonable and necessary moves to protect privacy—and it does need protection—won’t be able to outrun the fear strategy. For fear is building a new industry, a very fast-growing industry.

: Here’s Mathew Ingram’s GigaOm report on my talk with a brief chat. I hope to be able to post the talk itself soon.

February 15 2011

20:00

Clinton and the freedom to connect

In her second major speech on internet freedom, I’m delighted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood for the freedom to connect and recognizes the internet as a public space (as I will argue it is in Public Parts). The right to connect is first on my list of principles for our net society. I’m also delighted that she is calling for a discussion about those principles. But I will say that discussion should not come from her or from any government. The internet is not theirs. It is ours. The discussion must come from us, the citizens of the net.

She said:

To maintain an Internet that delivers the greatest possible benefits to the world, we need to have a serious conversation about the principles that guide us. What rules exist‚ and should not exist‚ and why; what behaviors should be encouraged and discouraged, and how.

The goal is not to tell people how to use the Internet, any more than we ought to tell people how to use any public space, whether it is Tahrir Square or Times Square. The value of these spaces derives from the variety of activities people can pursue in them, from holding a rally to selling their wares to having a private conversation. These spaces provide an open platform‚ and so does the internet. It does not serve any particular agenda, and it never should. But if people around the world are going to come together every day online and have a safe and productive experience, we need a shared vision to guide us.

One year ago, I offered a starting point for that vision, by calling for a global commitment to Internet freedom to protect human rights online as we do offline. The rights of individuals to express their views freely, petition their leaders, worship according to their beliefs‚ these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog.

The freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace; in our time, people are as likely to come together to pursue common interests online as in a church or union hall. Together, the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online comprise what I have called the freedom to connect. The United States supports this freedom for people everywhere, and we have called on other nations to do the same.

Because we want people to have the chance to exercise this freedom, we also support expanding the number of people who have access to the Internet.

Amen to all that. I’m disappointed that she used this speech to once more attack Wikileaks (even as she praised other nations’ citizens’ efforts to use the net to bring transparency to their governments) and that the Administration has not taken the opportunity of Wikileaks to examine its own level of classification and opacity. They could still disapprove of Wikileaks while also learning a lesson about being more open. By not doing that, some of the high-minded words in a speech such as this come off as at least inconsistent if not hypocritical.

14:56
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