COM 208: Privacy vs. publicness

Privacy vs. publicness
Many people are increasingly concerned about privacy at a time when it’s easier than ever to pry into people’s lives and publish information about them on the Internet

The morning after

It looks like this young man may have been partying. Would he have done the same thing if he had known his picture might wind up on the Internet?

The Internet and accountability

Chinese activists used the Internet to pressure the authorities to do something about a police chief’s son accused of killing a woman while driving intoxicated. Link to video

As some people use the Internet to promote transparency, others worry about their privacy. Example: Google’s Street View

Funny Street View scenes

  • June 2007 – London’s Sunday Times said Street View images collected in just two days by Wired magazine showed “pedestrians picking their noses, police attending a fatality, a man climbing into an apartment block and a possible drug deal.” See story. Source of photo, below: BBC

  • February 2010: The European Union told Google to warn people before it sends cameras into the streets, the London Telegraph said. See story.
    September 2010: The Czech Republic refused to grant Google permission to expand its “Street View” because the mapping feature invades people’s privacy, CBS News reported. See story.

Google defends itself: (see Google’s Street View policy)

Street View only features photographs taken on public property and the imagery is no different from what a person can readily see or capture walking down the street.

What do you think? Do you trust Google? Facebook? Wikileaks? The government?

Privacy issues abound these days. Example: Body scans at airports

Images won’t be saved or stored, the government says. Images are harmless. People can’t identify faces.
But what happens when you invert an image in Photoshop?


What Google has taught us, according to Jeff Jarvis, author of “What Would Google Do?”

  • Customers are now in charge
  • People can find each other anywhere and gather around you – or against you
  • The mass market is dead, replaced by the mass of niches
  • Markets are conversations. Key skill in marketing: conversing
  • Enabling customers to collaborate with you – in creating, distributing, marketing and supporting products – is what creates a premium in today’s market
  • The most successful enterprises today are networks and the platforms on which those networks are built. These networks extract as little value as possible so they can grow as big as possible
  • Owning pipelines, people, products or even intellectual property is no longer the key to success. Openness is.

Dawn of a Transparent Age?
Publicness is all about transparency and openness. Publicness, according to Jarvis, is where people ought to be headed. He says:

  • Publicness makes and improves relationships. To make connections with people, you need to be open and share. When you decide not to be public, you risk losing that connection.
  • Publicness enables collaboration. That’s the beta lesson: When you open up your process, you invite people to help you improve what you’re doing. It is also, of course, the lesson of open-source.
  • Publicness builds trust. Secrecy doesn’t.
  • Publicness kills the myth of perfection. That is, when we open our process, we are showing our faults and are no longer held at every moment to the myth of perfection that has come to rule our industrial-age processes.

Virtues of Publicness, according to Jarvis:

  • Publicness disarms taboos. Example: Publicness was the daring weapon gays and lesbians used to tear down their closets. I’m not saying that people should be forced out of their closets; that is their choice. But I am saying that when they do, it faces down the bigots who made homosexuality a taboo; it disarms them.
  • Publicness grants credit and provides provenance for ideas and creation.
  • Publicness enables the wisdom of the crowd. If we all keep our information, knowledge, ideas, and lessons to ourselves, we lose collectively.
  • Publicness organizes us. Speaking and assembling go hand-in-hand as rights. When we stand up and say who we are, we can find others like us and do things together.
  • Publicness protects. The knowledge that one’s actions could be public has an impact.
  • Publicness is value. What’s public is owned by the public. This includes images taken in public space. Whenever publicness is diminished, it robs from us, the public.

Publicness and Big Brother

Does the federal government value publicness? How has the government reacted to Wikileaks?
No doubt, Wikileaks has created headaches for the government. The only solution to leaks, some argue, is not more secrecy but more transparency.
Jarvis asks: What if government’s “default setting” were public – not secret – and it had nothing to hide but things that would be harmful if public? He writes:

One way or another—by force of through sanity—we are at the dawn of the transparent age. But it’s not going to be a pretty or easy transition. The first facts to be dragged into the sunlight will be the ugly ones that somebody thinks need to be exposed. Only when and if government realizes that its best defense is openness will we see transparency as a good in itself and not just a weapon to expose the bad.
Only when governments realize that their citizens can now watch them—better than they can watch their citizens, will we see transparency bring deterrence to bad actors and bad acts. Then we become Big Brother’s Big Brother.

Something to discuss in fall semester 2011:
The Streisand effect

1 thought on “COM 208: Privacy vs. publicness

  1. Pingback: COM 208: Midterm review | Writing • Photography • Blogs • Journalism

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