An inch closer to the end of privacy (thanks Facebook!)

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If the end of privacy is so evil, so awful, so unthinkable, then why am I liking the new Pandora so much?

See, in the past three days since Facebook announced major new changes to its social contract with all of us, I’ve been able to study my friends’ personal musical tastes in a way I couldn’t just four days ago.

Here, come on over to the new Pandora on my screen. I click on “Friends’ Music” and now let’s look through what I can see.

I see that Aaron Roe Fulkerson, MindTouch’s Inc founder and CEO, listened to Toad the Wet Sprocket. I bet he didn’t quite realize that I’d be able to see that a week ago.

I see that Adrian Otto, chief of research at the Rackspace Cloud (where I work at), listens to Kenny G. I bet he didn’t quite realize that I’d be able to see that a week ago. Aside: Kenny G, really dude? Heheh.

I see that Alan Cooper, father of Visual Basic, and head of a famous software design studio that bears his name, listens to the Barenaked Ladies. I bet he didn’t quite realize that I’d be able to see that a week ago.

Should I keep going? I have 1,300 friends over on Facebook and a lot of them use Pandora.

To me this is freaking awesome. I have found more music in the past week than I’ve found in the past year.

Oh, yeah, and you can see my own account and see how my musical tastes are changing thanks to this new feature.

But, on the other hand, this new feature has heralded a new age where we move closer to the end of privacy.

While listening to music that now is shared by all my friends I’ve been reading thousands of words about how Facebook screwed its contract with us to keep our stuff private.

Here’s one thread from DeWitt Clinton that talks about why he deleted his Facebook account. Here’s a story on Techcrunch about a bunch of Google employees leaving Facebook. And finally, here’s yet another thread, started by Louis Gray, about those employees leaving Facebook (in the comments there I lay out why Google’s employees made the wrong decision).

If you read those posts — and all the comments in them — you’ll see that there’s a lot of people who are very disappointed with Facebook’s moves pushing us all to be more public.

Personally I have not taken a good stance on this lately in public.

First, what has been my public stance? Privacy is dead.

Why did I take that stance? Because, personally, I’m bored with the discussion about privacy.

Why am I bored?

Because the people who are against having their previously-private stuff shared with the world (whether it was when Google Buzz shared my email connections that I made in Gmail with everyone, or it was when Facebook forced everyone to accept being public and to reconfigure their privacy settings and, in some cases, taking away a few ways to keep their stuff between them and their friends) don’t discuss is my Pandora example above. They don’t admit that there’s a lot of goodness that comes from pushing us to be more public with our lives.

The truth is I — as a user — get more features everytime the industry moves us toward a more public world.

Google did this when they put a cookie on my machine that nearly never expired. I remember employees at Microsoft thinking that that was a horrid move against their privacy (they knew that that meant that their surfing behavior could be studied by Google at a rate that Microsoft’s search engine wouldn’t be able to do because Microsoft had a stricter stance toward protection of privacy). I remember telling those employees to get over it and that soon our entire online lives would be shared and that Google would gain massive adoption because of the features that afforded it.

Google is NOT blameless here. They have moved us a long way toward a world where we have no privacy. Even Google’s CEO’s home address was shared with the world via Google. Today we are sharing that kind of data with each other all the time as we post stuff with geotags applied to it or check in on Foursquare or Gowalla.

But last week was about Facebook’s moves and Facebook pushed us another inch toward the cliff of no more privacy. Is that scary? Well, yes! But is it good too? Well, yes! Here, listen to my Pandora music again and tell me you don’t like being able to study my previously-private life in even more glorious detail.

The truth of the matter is that we are going to live our lives from now on — at least in part — in public and we need a new kind of privacy contract with the companies that use our data.

Tonight we started that discussion where I asked my Twitter followers what the last bastion of privacy is?

We ended up that the last bastion of privacy is control. I recorded an audio CinchCast to talk about that. Control of the ability to tell our life’s story.

In that audio I told you that we are no longer in control of how our life’s story gets shared with others. For some, like me, we’ve crossed over to where we accept that loss of control. Others still hold onto the — in my view, mistaken — belief that they can control what others learn about them.

That is privacy: control of our human story. Last week Facebook took something we thought we had control of and gave it away. That pisses off a lot of people, but on the other hand, I gotta say I am loving my new Pandora music that that change brought to me.

And thus we have moved an inch closer to the end of privacy whether you like it or not.

So, now what?

1. We need new skills to deal with our new lack of privacy. How do we make sure Facebook doesn’t share what we don’t want shared? There’s lots of discussion on that around the web but we need more.
2. We need a more nuanced discussion about privacy. It’s not just about “never take my private stuff and make it public.” If it were, we wouldn’t have gotten the new Pandora features we just got last week.
3. We need more control over our data so that we can easily figure out what is going where. With Facebook it’s hard to figure that out now (I solved that by just making everything I do public, but others don’t want to live the same way I do).
4. What else? Add your thoughts to the conversation and what privacy means to you.

Talk to you later, I’m off to meet Thomas Hawk where we’ll walk around a car show in Half Moon Bay — in public — and take pictures. You’re welcome to join us. Bring your stash of great music. Oh, yeah, bring your iPhones! :-)

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

115 thoughts on “An inch closer to the end of privacy (thanks Facebook!)

  1. Jesse, anonymity is what enables you to express deeply held but unpopular beliefs. Anonymous speech is the reason I'm sitting in the United States instead of a British colony. Anonymous speech gives us the ability to discuss politics without having it come up in future interactions with law enforcement.

    If everything you do is identified with you, Everything can be used to pressure you to conform with someone else's sense of normal.

    Think back a couple of years. A young woman expressed her indecision about accepting a “fatty” job with Cisco Systems. Her comment wasn't private, so it got out to the world–and then her anonymity was breached. She was hounded and called names for expressing her view that she wasn't sure she wanted to work for a major tech company. Now imagine Facebook linking her comment on a Cisco-related “like” page with her full name. Her “friends” and others who were linked to the Cisco page then see her comment on any Cisco-related site.

    De-anonymizing is repression. It is the first step toward dictatorship. Maybe not the kind that the Europeans had (e.g., far right or far left using force or the threat thereof to control people). More likely something akin to China, where tremendous social pressure is used to keep people in line, with force being the last option.

    By the way, lnxwalt is a more targeted identifier than my first and last names. There are at least two other people with my name in Google searches, but so far, I'm the only lnxwalt that shows up.

    There are two very different components to identity. The first is where you come from. This is information like your name, your date of birth, your place of birth, your address, your ethnic background, your national citizenship, and your relatives. The second is who you see yourself as, which is often expressed in nicknames, online handles, the activities you participate in, and the people and groups you form relationships with. The two kinds of identity require different forms of protection. Often, the key to free expression is the ability to keep data of one type from becoming associated with data of the second type. Hence the necessity for anonymity.

  2. Robert,

    I'm confused. You dedicate almost this entire post to the theme “the death of privacy is good so that we get these new features” (paraphrase) and then go and say essentially what the privacy advocates are saying in summary point #3:

    “We need more control over our data so that we can easily figure out what is going where. With Facebook it’s hard to figure that out now (I solved that by just making everything I do public, but others don’t want to live the same way I do).”

    That's all (most) people want. They want to decide whether their FB friends know that they listen to Kenny G on Pandora. They want to decide if their accounts are linked or not.They want to opt in not be forced to figure out how to opt out.

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  8. I hope we never see a hate button. There's enough hate in the world. If you hate something the best thing to do is just never apply your digital fingerprint to it.

  9. I've been keeping loose tabs on it from your descriptions. Unfortunately there's only so many topics I can maintain attention on while learning, working, and building.

    My limited understanding is that Kynetx is an identity management and privacy tool with single login and information control.

    Is it a company or a non-profit?

  10. Hey Walt agree with your take on control shifting from the user to social network as they opt in to something like Facebook. Any corporate entity in charge of connecting people is going to come to a conflict of interest down the road. Am I more concerned with protecting individual user rights or am I more concerned with making a profit? By definition corporations are dictatorships with some oligarchy features (boards). It's difficult to maintain protection of individual user rights in corporate run businesses and only full transparency can do so, which undermines (user) privacy and corporate goals.

    Side note: I see you're a fanatic Linux gent and Ruby coder. Do you have an opinion on JRuby (Surinx) with integration of invokedynamic into JDK7 versus Rubinius (C/C++ based Ruby) implementation speeds? I'm looking forward to large improvements for benchmarks like Alioth's shootout

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