Posts about publicness

Public and private

Views of publicness from today:

* Anderson Cooper comes out of the closet and Emma Keller argues that he was hounded out while Gawker’s Brian Moylan brags about having been a hound.

They’re each right. I say in Public Parts that I don’t believe anyone should be forced out of a closet of his or her own making; that is the essence of privacy: choice. But I’ll also argue that one has the responsibility to ask whether one’s own knowledge, made public, could help others. That is the ethic of publicness, the ethic of sharing. And that, in the end, is what Cooper decided, eloquently arguing:

I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.

Even as he scolded Anderson for not being visible enough on a holiday Monday off air, Gawker founder Nick Denton celebrated this much: “It’s awesome that the calculation has changed this much: that it’s now more embarrassing to remain in the closet than it is to come out.”

* At the same time, a New York judge ordered Twitter to hand over the tweets of an #OccupyWallStreet protestor because they were already public: “The Constitution gives you the right to post, but as numerous people have learned, there are still consequences for your public posts. What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you.”

The man has a point: what’s public is public and belongs to the public.

The weakness in his argument is the relative efficiency of the new medium. If this same protestor had muttered words in a crowd on the bridge and no on recalled his exact — though public — words, then he’d be off. That he muttered them on a digital platform with a magnetic memory changes the nature and impact of publicness.

The bottom line, to me, is that these two men contributed to the public by being public, aiding causes that matter to society, and we need norms and laws that do not penalize them for their decisions to be public. There should be nothing wrong with a gay man saying he is gay for anyone to hear. There should be nothing wrong or dangerous for a citizen expressing an opinion about our government. The issue is not privacy. The issue how much we value and thus protect publicness.

That is why I wrote Public Parts.

: LATER: On the Google+ discussion about this post, a commenter points to the Twitter case’s overreach in also asking for things that are not public, including direct messages, location, and more. The problem is that our electronic communications do not have the same protection that our letters do. That must be fixed.

Theft v. sharing

Surely New York Times columnist and former editor Bill Keller understands how specious his comparison between Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg is.

What’s the difference, I asked a tech-writer friend, between the billionaire media mogul Mark Zuckerberg and the billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch?
When Rupert invades your privacy, my friend e-mailed back, it’s against the law. When Mark does, it’s the future.
There is truth in that riposte: we deplore the violations exposed in the phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch’s British tabloids, while we surrender our privacy on a far grander scale to Facebook and call it “community.”

Oh, come now. Murdoch’s henchmen steal private information through hacking phones and other nefarious means to splash it on the front pages of their rags. Facebook creates a platform that enables people to share with each other at their will, to connect, and to gather together to do anything from meeting for dinner to organizing a revolution. Surely Mr. Keller understands the difference between journalistic high crimes and felonies and providing a community with the means to organize itself — which, I argue, is what journalists should see as their mission.

Bill, I’ll send you a copy of my book, which explores the differences between privacy violated and publicness enabled.

Creepy

I just reamed an ITN producer who emailed me this clip about Google seeking a patent for using background noise in audible search requests and wanted to talk to me “off the record” (why he’d offer that, I don’t know; bad reporters’ reflex) to find out what “worries” I had about privacy and security. Note well that he didn’t ask me what I thought of the technology — whether I thought it was good or bad, how I thought it could be used positively or negatively, what its potential is. No, he showed his bias clearly by asking me to tell him what was wrong with it. Is that how a journalist should operate?

He called me and I challenged him about what was wrong with this. I want Google to know where I am so when I ask for pizza, I don’t get a treatise on the history of pizza. If Google can hear the background when I search for “Raptor” and realize whether I’m in a noisy stadium or a quiet museum, I want it to guess well whether I want jocks or dinosaurs. What’s wrong with that? I ask back. Some people will think it’s “creepy.” I asked him to define creepy. The word is imprecise, emotional, and lazy, used not to elicit facts but quotable opinions. Is that how a journalist should operate?

Thus we see the sprouting of another incident of Luddite reporting on technology with a Reefer Madness touch of sensationalism, just like the Wall Street Journal’s What They Know series and last week’s Consumer Reports moral-panic survey on Facebook.

What gets me angry — besides lazy journalism — is the danger this presents to the freedom of the web. These alleged journalistic endeavors will be used to set public policy and to try to regulate and limit the freedom of the net.

I find that creepy.

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.

Social (network) pressure

By adding an organ-donation tool to Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg is setting up a dynamic of social pressure for virtue. Is that always good?

Now getting us to sign our drivers’ licenses so our vital bits can be harvested to save others’ lives is a moderately low-impact decision. But what about the occasional calls for folks to sign up to be tested for a marrow transplant — as in the drive for Super Amit? That’s no easy decision.

Imagine tomorrow, God forbid, one of your Facebook friends needs a kidney. There’s a tool staring you in the face asking you to get tested for a match. Do you join that lottery, getting tested and hoping to fail (or win)? Do you risk being shunned by your community if you don’t? Do you join in shunning others if they don’t?

I’m not proposing answers to those questions. Technology is pushing at our norms, forcing us to adapt, in so many ways, from how we communicate and converse to how we define what’s polite and what’s rude. This is a mighty poke. It will be fascinating to watch.

Gutenberg the Geek, reviewed

Some kind folks have reviewed my Kindle Single Gutenberg the Geek. Snippets:

Craig Newmark: Gutenberg was a geek (I prefer “nerd”, being one) whose work invented our current day, much like our work together on the Internet is defining the future. Jeff does a great job with the story of Gutenberg, correcting misconceptions including my own, and then show how it relates to Silicon Valley entrepreneurship and its context in evolving world history. This is a really big deal, beyond my ability to articulate.

Rex Hammock: (My only disappointment: He should have named the ebook What Would Gutenberg Do? in reference to his previous book, What Would Google Do?)…. In Jarvis’ compact and concise book, he fills it with inside-geek references to today’s era of new technology and new business models built on that technology while revealing that others have gone down this path before — hundreds of years before. I feel certain no one else has written a book of any length that finds parallels in how Gutenberg and the founders of Airbnb.com funded their startups — but it’s that kind of informative, and fun, comparison that enables this to be an informative, but quick, read.

Walter Reade: I listen to Jeff Jarvis every week on the “This Week in Google” podcast. He drives me crazy 80% of the time. But, he’s worth listening to the other 20%. Jeff is not afraid to think. He is not afraid to weave narratives and create hypotheses from observations from the modern world and from the world of history. He has a relentless habit of extracting meaning from events and trends, and expressing it is ways that make me think. Gutenberg the Geek is a wonderful example of Jeff’s style of thinking. The “Kindle Single” is worth reading simply as a summary of the life and accomplishment of Gutenberg. It is an important reminder to us how Gutenberg worked for years to achieve what he did. He didn’t wake up and invent the printing press. He perfected his craft improvement upon improvement, while at the same time wrestling with the challenges of life and business. If you’re so inclined, though, the book will also give you a major serving of food for thought. In short, can we afford to stifle the modern-day equivalent of the printing press (i.e., the internet), because it too, like the printing press, is disruptive to various powers that be? Jeff raises those questions quite eloquently.

Jeremy Aldrich: …This Kindle Single isn’t really about what made Gutenberg a geek; it’s about what made him a great start-up founder. Jarvis gives the facts (as much as we can know them) of Gutenberg’s story and writes that “In all, Gutenberg — just like a modern-day startup — depended on exploiting new efficiencies, achieving scale, reusing assets, dividing specialized labor, and setting standards.” I had always pictured Gutenberg working alone and tinkering with the design of his printing press, but the author describes the business side of the story (which is quite compelling) and makes frequent comparisons to modern-day companies and entrepreneurs. At the very end, he pivots to a frequent (for Jeff Jarvis) theme of advocating for Internet freedom, which felt a little awkwardly tacked on. And speaking of awkwardly tacked on, here are two quotes I highlighted: “This was a time of change and disruption — which is like planting season for entrepreneurs.”
“Don’t today’s entrepreneurs dream for a fraction of Gutenberg’s impact? He was the inventor of history’s greatest platform.” A good quick read, stylistically somewhere between a Wikipedia entry and an article in WIRED.

Leave our net alone*

The internet’s not broken.

So then why are there so many attempts to regulate it? Under the guises of piracy, privacy, pornography, predators, indecency, and security, not to mention censorship, tyranny, and civilization, governments from the U.S. to France to Germany to China to Iran to Canada — as well as the European Union and the United Nations — are trying to exert control over the internet.

Why? Is it not working? Is it presenting some new danger to society? Is it fundamentally operating any differently today than it was five or ten years ago? No, no, and no.

So why are governments so eager to claim authority over it? Why would legacy corporations, industries, and institutions egg them on? Because the net is working better than ever. Because they finally recognize how powerful it is and how disruptive it is to their power.

And that is precisely why we must fight against their attempts to regulate it, to change it, to throttle it, to oversee it, to insert controls into it, to grant them sovereignty over it. We also must resist the temptation to compromise, to accept the lesser of evils. Last week, Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell warned of the danger of the U.N. asserting governance over the net, but then he turned around and argued that “merely saying ‘no’ to any changes to the current structure of Internet governance is likely to be a losing proposition.”

Why? I repeat: It’s not broken. This is why I urged French President Nicolas Sarkozy to take a Hippocratic oath for the net. This is why I have come to side with Sen. Al Franken on at least this: Net neutrality is not regulation; it is protecting the net from companies trying to change it. This is why the Reddit community is writing the Free Internet Act.

This is why I argued in Public Parts that we must have a discussion of the principles of an open society and the tools of publicness that enable it. This is why I wrote Public Parts. And that is why I’m posting the last chapter of the book, which argues that governments and companies are not protectors of the net and that we must be.

It’s not broken. Don’t fix it. Leave our net alone.

*Sung to the tune of….

We don’t need no regulation.
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the network
Government: Leave our net alone
Hey! Government! Leave our net alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

Piracy v. do not track

Consider the similarities between piracy and do not track. They’re greater than you think, for both reduce value for content creators. And both are excuses for internet regulation.

In piracy, a content company sets business rules: You must pay for my product; if you take it without paying for it, you are robbing me of value.

With do not track, an advertising-supported content company sets business rules: You will get my content for free because I will serve you ads and I will increase their efficiency, performance, and value by targeting them to your interests and behavior; if you block the cookies that make that possible, you are robbing me of value.

The difference between the two is that there is a furor over piracy as theft but, quite to the contrary, there is a rush to enable the blocking of ad tracking as a virtue.

If you listen to The Wall Street Journal, Apple was a good guy for blocking by default third-party cookies (ask what Apple gets out of that). And it’s good news that technology companies just agreed to implement a do-not-track button on browsers.

There is nothing sinister about third-party ad tracking cookies. They’ve been used since very early in the history of the web when General Motors, for example, insisted in serving its own ads on content sites so it could verify what was bought and optimize its targeting. Without that ability, many large advertisers will refuse to buy ads and the value of ad-supported media could plummet — just at a time when we are concerned about how we will support news media.

Odd that a media company wouldn’t be crying foul. The Journal’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, cries bloody murder over piracy — going so far as to accuse Google of theft — but his paper crusades for blocking tracking, claiming it is a violation of privacy (though in most cases, the cookies have no personally identifiable information and so it’s hard to justify a moral panic based on their use).

Murdoch’s News Corp is, at its core, an entertainment company, thus a paid-content company. The ad-supported portion of his P&L is not only small but is causing him much agita as his journalists in the U.K. are accused of violating laws of the nation and the profession.

I’m not building a conspiracy theory. I’m just pointing to the priorities that emerge when one follows the money.

So what about the rest of the industry — the media, advertising, and technology industries, that is? Oh, they blew it. They were never transparent enough about what technology they were using, what data they were gathering, and why — not to mention the benefits that accrued to their users (i.e., free content). That opened the door for other parties — privacy scare-mongers, competitors for our media attention, and government regulators — to demonize the mysterious cookie and stir up this moral panic and paranoia. The M.A.T. industries have only themselves to blame.

In the EU, government regulators have decreed that sites must obtain opt-in permission to set cookies. In the US, the industry agreement today announced is an attempt to forestall government regulation with self-regulation.

But don’t be too quick to celebrate as if these are consumer victories. I believe the EU dictum could lead to (a) a much poorer web experience as we are bombarded with boxes to tick and (b) poorer media companies and thus (c) the possibility of less free media and more pay walls. And in the U.S., it has been shown that one can whip up an anti-net hysteria and bring even giant technology companies to expose their soft underbellies. Each leads to more threats of regulation of the net. That’s what I fear.

It is time for technology companies especially to adopt radical transparency of how they operate so they can’t find themselves in gotcha moments when the hysterical “discover” something they’ve been doing all along. Under such openness, it is also time for them to learn that doing sneaky things will not benefit them. And it is also time for the media, advertising, and technology companies to start fighting back against accusers’ misinformation and explain the truth of what they are doing and how we benefit. That is transparency’s dividend.

LATER: By the way, this post was inspired and informed by a discussion last night on This Week in Google, in which Leo Laporte said he was grateful that I was going so far that I was making him look moderate.

One more point from that discussion: We all practice blocking ads when we fast-forward through commercials on our DVRs. And the industry adapted and still prospers (for now). That’s what may happen here. But one should still recognize the impact of one’s actions — whether skipping or blocking — on the economics of what is provided. And one difference is that we have to skip each commercial manually (especially since, as Leo pointed out, a company that provided easy 30-second skipping was hounded out of business as a result). In the case of do not track, especially government-mandated opt-in — that is wholesale devaluing of advertising in a medium.