Posts about publicness

Verizon thinks the net is its newspaper

Verizon makes its arguments against the FCC’s net neutrality rules — and they are fraught with danger.

Verizon sees the net as its newspaper and believes it has First Amendment rights to control what goes on the net. This is why Doc Searls has taught me that it is dangerous to see the net as a medium. No, the net is a network and Verizon only offers access to it.

But there’s the next argument: Verizon says the net is its private property and so it makes a Fifth Amendment claim that imposing restrictions on its ability to impose restrictions on the net is like confiscating property without compensation.

Danger, danger!

The First Amendment argument is absurd on its face. Does Verizon really want to be responsible for everything distributed on the net, including libel, theft, and other illegal behavior? I doubt it. Verizon is no publisher.

The Fifth Amendment argument is a corner we’ve painted ourselves into by finding ourself dependent on a public good privately owned. But just as we make restrictions on private property — I can’t build a gas station on my house; I have to give access to public utility workers — so must we here.

We need a SOPA/PIPA/ACTA-level fight for net neutrality, for not allowing Verizon et al to mess with the net. We need a principle: First, do no harm. You might want to at least start here, by signing the Declaration of Internet Freedom.

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.