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Privacy among the banderlog - Input Junkie
July 25th, 2010
12:01 pm

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Privacy among the banderlog
The Web Means the End of Forgetting is a longish piece about how privacy is playing out these days, but it leaves out an entertaining possibility for enforcement.

All the methods suggested (and as stated in the article, none of them likely to be very effective) are around protecting information, whether by not giving it out or through automated methods of forgetting.

What about reputational costs for people who overreact to minor and/or outdated pieces of information?

Also, unless I missed something (I admit I skimmed) there was nothing about changes over time in standards for behavior, and a background assumption that every group has the same standards.

Who knows, maybe there can be longterm running scores of the effects of maintaining different sets of standards? Not that such a thing would cause people to agree on what effects are valuable, but it still might be interesting and somewhat useful.

Link thanks to rm.

Some of the underlying premises inspired by H G Wells' Men Like Gods [1]-- it's a book about a half dozen or so random British people from the 1920s stranded in a utopia. Among other things, records about everyone are publicly available, though, iirc, they're on paper files in central locations. One of the British character says something like he knows someone who could make utopia into hell in a few weeks just from having access to the records. It seems to me that you can only do that sort of thing if there's a tremendous amount that people want to keep secret.

One thing I'm hoping for is that so much information being available about what people actually do will lead to reasonable standards for how people can be expected to act. This may be excessively optimistic.

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From:fengi
Date:July 25th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
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"so much information being available about what people actually do will lead to reasonable standards for how people can be expected to act"

One would hope it would lead to the elimination of nearly all standards as it would show how little agreement there is on normal, and the majority standard would be mind your own business. Except that's not how human nature works, or not the only way it works, for every positive impulse, there is a natural urge to examine and judge others. As there is a natural need for people to keep aspects of their lives private.

When one looks at any environment in which privacy is unusually limited - prisons, collective farms, high schools, cubicles farms - it leads to the creation of severe social hierarchies which dictate norms and enforce them via shaming.

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From:madfilkentist
Date:July 25th, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC)
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Another issue is forgery and disinformation. Usenet is around forever, and for a while the Dan and Scott gang was forging spam in my name. (This was called a "Joe job" after an early prominent victim.) If someone came across that and took it for my doing, it could conceivably be damaging to me.
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From:sethg_prime
Date:July 25th, 2010 11:56 pm (UTC)
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The whole concept of privacy as more than a social convention is fairly modern, right? A few hundred years ago, most people spent their lives in small towns where everyone could know everyone else’s business, and the only force holding back the busybodies was the knowledge that if you are reputed to be a nosy gossip, your own reputation will suffer.
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From:siderea
Date:July 26th, 2010 04:00 am (UTC)
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Yes. And by all accounts it was profoundly repressive and unpleasant for all involved and is why they all, at staggering financial cost and personal risk, moved out of the shtetls of greater Riga and into the tenements of the BosWash corridor.

I ain't going back. My forefathers and foremothers sacrificed WAY too much so I and mine wouldn't have ever to live like that again.
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From:sethg_prime
Date:July 26th, 2010 10:34 am (UTC)
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I like the modern system, too, but I’m not sure how it (or the most useful parts of it) can be preserved for the next generations.
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From:nancylebov
Date:July 26th, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
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A lot of people move out of small towns into cities, but it's at least as much because of external persecution and/or poverty as because of the lack of privacy. Admittedly, the three can be related to each other because the first two can cause a shortage of physical space.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 7th, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
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Privacy needs to include a "what" and "from whom" field, to make any sense. In any small community, you'll have gossip going around about everything from who's sleeping with whom to who drinks too much to whose kids are rotten awful brats. But for the most part, the gossip exchanged between members of one community were hard for others to hear. For the king or bishop to hear that gossip required nasty and expensive mechanisms, like informants and secret policemen in every village.

And there were certainly some social expectations of privacy even hundreds of years ago in small towns. For example, the restrictions on repeating information heard in the confessional are pretty old. I think lawyers and doctors also have had some notion of professional standards of keeping their clients' secrets for a very long time.

From:twistedchick
Date:July 26th, 2010 02:56 am (UTC)
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'Reputational costs?' Such as what? Shaming? Shunning? Hanging? Dismemberment?

I think none of that is useful at all.
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From:nancylebov
Date:July 26th, 2010 03:04 pm (UTC)
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I think shaming and shunning can make a difference, depending on how pervasive they are.

The hard question is to what extent these awesome powers can be used for good purposes.

Edited at 2010-07-26 03:05 pm (UTC)
From:twistedchick
Date:July 26th, 2010 03:24 pm (UTC)
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I have never seen them used for any good purpose. I have seen them used to emotionally cripple and wound people in ways that take years to recover from. They do not improve a situation; they do not improve people. For me they come under the category of conscious cruelty.
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From:nancylebov
Date:July 26th, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC)
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Neo-nazis are not welcome in most of the US. Anyone who comes out as a neo-nazi is likely to be shamed and/or shunned. This doesn't strike me as problematic.
From:twistedchick
Date:July 26th, 2010 04:13 pm (UTC)
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I think the mere fact that you're invoking Godwin indicates the paucity of your argument.
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From:nancylebov
Date:July 26th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
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I didn't compare anything to Hitler.

To expand my argument: Neonazis aren't welcome in the vast majority of social circles in the US. Nothing awful seems to happen as a result. What am I missing?



Edited at 2010-07-26 04:18 pm (UTC)
From:twistedchick
Date:July 26th, 2010 04:47 pm (UTC)
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You seem to be invoking organized mob action -- or organized group action against an individual -- under the guise of self protection. Or something else you haven't mentioned. I ain't buying it. And citing an extreme -- neoNazis -- in comparison to the usual online information or relationship kerfuffle is a straw man argument. Yes, invoking Nazis is as much Godwin as invoking Hitler. It's an extreme, and it is done to end discussion.

And yes, this discussion is ended.
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From:siderea
Date:July 26th, 2010 03:57 am (UTC)
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One thing I'm hoping for is that so much information being available about what people actually do will lead to reasonable standards for how people can be expected to act. This may be excessively optimistic.

Humans being humans, I think it's fair to assume that the sorts of things that most typically straight, white, able-bodied, cisgendered, upper-middle-class Christian etc. men prefer to keep secret will come be excused as youthful hijinks, while the sorts of things that everybody else would prefer to keep secret will continue to incite overreaction, prejudice and discrimination.

Not all secrets are created equal, unfortunately, and those already privileged in our society will tend to continue to enjoy privileges others don't.

Further, the assumptions that secrets are about things you did as opposed to things you are (e.g. "mixed race", polyamorous, an incest survivor, the child of criminals, atheist, recovering alcoholic, being stalked) or conditions you have (e.g. AIDS, schizophrenia, epilepsy) is itself quite a blind spot about the politics of privacy.
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From:nancylebov
Date:July 26th, 2010 03:12 pm (UTC)
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It seems to me that lately social pressure has come down pretty hard on high-status white men for having said racist or sexist things.

And that homosexuality isn't blackmail fodder the way it used to be.

On the other hand, it may turn out that privilege is just as strong, it just accrues to a somewhat different set of people.

I'd be quite interested in anything more you have to say about the politics of privacy and your three categories.

Possibly of interest: Teresa vs. Google and Facebook in re privacy at Making Light.

Edited at 2010-07-26 03:12 pm (UTC)
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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:July 27th, 2010 09:02 am (UTC)
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"It seems to me that lately social pressure has come down pretty hard on high-status white men for having said racist or sexist things."

Even if that requires considerable (unstated) re-definition of 'racist'.

"On the other hand, it may turn out that privilege is just as strong, it just accrues to a somewhat different set of people."

I'm not sure what you mean by 'priviledge' here. But I do think a key point would be whether it's the same group of people being condemned for something different, or a different group. Which might mean different group/s doing the condemning, too.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 7th, 2010 08:41 pm (UTC)
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I think it's inevitable that the standards will change over time, and that powerful/influential people will seek to change them in directions that excuse their own youthful indiscretions while allowing them to attack their rivals for their own horrible, dark secrets.

One interesting problem here is that the standards of acceptability change over time, and also change from context to context. The interesting cases happen when you get a culture clash. We can see that now in two directions pretty often:

a. The kind of casual racism that was absolutely normal, the default set of beliefs in most of the US in (say) 1950, is now completely unacceptable. Saying stuff that would have brought nods of agreement in polite company in 1950 Birmingham is now guaranteed to end your political career, if said today. And as a society, we've not really worked out how to deal with the transition, as witness the many laudatory public comments about the late Sens Byrd and Helms.

b. Being openly gay was not at all acceptable in the US in 1950. In many places, it would have gotten you beaten up, arrested, run out of town, or killed. We've transitioned to it being, in much of the US, not that big a deal. This leads to interesting culture clashes in the other direction--many people being outraged and shocked at serious discussions of allowing gay marriage and adoption of kids by gay couples.
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From:bradhicks
Date:July 26th, 2010 09:43 pm (UTC)
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My experience is that Americans don't even draw a distinction between what you did and what you are. If you've ever distimmed a dosh, then you are a dosh-distimmer, and that's how you'll be known for the rest of your life.
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From:nancylebov
Date:July 27th, 2010 01:08 am (UTC)
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Are there other cultures you'd say are more forgiving, or is it just Americans are what you have experience with?
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From:bradhicks
Date:July 27th, 2010 02:38 am (UTC)
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The latter. I'm uncertain whether to generalize or not.
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From:bradhicks
Date:July 26th, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC)
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I have an advantage in this: my parents anticipated this age, and raised my sister and I accordingly. We were told from a very early age that privacy was unsustainable, that secrets are unkeepable, and therefore we needed to live our lives such that we would be perfectly comfortable if anything we said or did ended up on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper. Whatever you're thinking of doing, either don't be ashamed of it, or don't do it.

It's served me unevenly as a rule; I've had serious negative consequences both for the things I wouldn't do and for the things that I wasn't ashamed of. But looking at the world through the lens of disappearing privacy, I think I'm ahead of my time.

A year or two ago, one of the big right-wing newsletters took a poll of their readership, asking them what they thought the ten most dangerous books of all time were. Nine of them were political or economic treatises that Republicans disagree with. One of them was scientific: Kinsey's book on male sexuality, at #4. An awful lot of anti-gay legislation and anti-gay shaming depended on maintaining the fiction that each and every gay man was the only one, the only person so perverted as to have ever wanted to do those things; letting the public know that as many as one in five men have done those things at least once, and at least one in twenty want to do them all the time, made it very, very difficult to maintain that premise. Knowing it was that common made it effectively impossible, within 20 years, to make people ashamed of it.

On the other hand ...

What terrifies me is when I consider an argument by one of the fathers of sociology, Becker's Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance, that the percentage of "deviants" in all societies is a constant, and constant over time. He claimed to prove that when the rate of occurrence of the most hated form of deviancy declines, the public picks a new behavior and makes it a hated deviancy; his argument was that part of how the public maintains standards of morality is by maintaining a fixed percentage of its members to be shamed outcasts, suffering negative consequences, so they can serve as a warning to others of what happens if you don't live up to the standards of the group. If Becker was right, then all holy gods help us when privacy disappears.
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