Data & Stuff // Neil Houston

Yeap, data and stuff
  • scissors
    March 24th, 2010Neil HSXSWi, Uncategorized

    Privacy and Publicity, are they at odds with one another?

    We don’t just hold people accountable for helping us maintain privacy; we also hold the architecture around us accountable. We look around a specific place and decide whether or not we trust the space to allow us to speak freely to the people there. That said, we’ve also had a notion that “these walls have ears” that dates back to at least Chaucer.

    “But sooth is seyd, go sithen many yeres, / That feeld hath eyen and the wode hath eres.”
    – “Knight’s Tale” by Chaucer (1387), lines 1521-1522

    In highlighting the fact that the architecture might be untrustworthy, this idiom is really pointing out that there’s always the possibility of eavesdroppers, of people listening in who we don’t actually account for. This is unnerving, confusing, and frustrating to those who are trying to properly assess a situation.

    When people assess a situation, they develop mental models based on probability calculations and the expectations they bring to the table. They make guesses about who is more or less likely to run across them. Their calculations are completely reasonable, as it’s an efficient way of getting a decent handle on the social context, even if they are sometimes wrong. This is true both offline and online. People need to know how to behave so they use whatever information is available to them to make their best guess.

    Unfortunately, online environments are not nearly as stabilized as offline ones. While the walls in the streets may have ears, digital walls almost always do. More problematically, online architectures have affordances that are quite different than offline ones – persistence, searchability, replicability, scalability. [More info: Chapter 1]

    But, practically speaking, security through obscurity is not as stupid as some folks think. Most people out there never get much attention, even when they are desperately seeking it. This is true offline and, for the most part, online.

    From, an Extract of some of the talk on ‘Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity’ delivered at SXSW 2010.

    Privacy, on the internet is something I’ve always struggled with. Just look at what domain this site is on,, the same pseudonym that I’ve used since I first had an email address. The same name I’ve used in countless chatrooms, forums and other places. How does one achieve privacy on the net, when you yourself are causing yourself to be identified by a single name. You choose an online name other than your given name to try and retain some sense of privacy, but it just doesn’t end up that way.

    We live in a society where anything about you that was on the internet, is likely still to be, we leave vast trails of detritus throughout our life on the internet. These may be things we were happy at one point in time to be found, but now with hindsight that post your wrote when you were 13 is not funny anymore. We try to have security through obscurity, but at least for me, I find it hard to escape.

    Meanwhile the digital architecture has changed; we aren’t just leaving in a world of emails, and chatrooms. Google came along and indexed all the content it could find. Social networks exploded, as the place where you could be found, and find others. How do you deal with an all aware society, where minutes after an embarrassing photo is taken, it can be found on Facebook, Twitter and disseminated without your control?

    What’s worse is when you think you understand the online environment you life in, you know the rules and then the provider goes and changes them (like with Facebook), like with the failure of Privacy in the initial Google Buzz deployment.

    For me, the internet was always a place I could escape to. Yet now, how do I escape and say what I really think? Is another totally separate persona needed, or is it a case of ‘if I offend you, I’m sorry, it was never meant to be that way’.

    We live in a place where comments can be throwaway remarks, yet can have the potential to be seen by hundreds. There are times when I know I’ve said something, that in the cold light of day I wonder whether that was truly the best thing to have said.

    I come to accept that everything I put online can be found, that things will likely appear that perhaps I would rather wish didn’t but that is how things are now. The fact is, we have the opportunity to find out so much about each other, but just because the information is public, it doesn’t mean that it necessarily wants to be publicised.

    There is also the fact that information that is put online publically may be aimed at a certain audience, Danah has some great examples from her research and they remind me of my own experiences. Whilst it is easy to be private in public in an offline environment, that you trust, doing the same online is not easy. Just because you can see it, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should go and view it.

    This is a topic that I really do think will come to the forefront as we continue to merge our online and offline worlds; the new generation may make no distinction between the concept of privacy and publicity in the different environments. We need to learn to trust, and have boundaries, so we can respect the privacy that all can have.

    Citation: boyd, danah. 2010. “Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity.” SXSW. Austin, Texas, March 13.

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  • scissors
    March 19th, 2010Neil HSXSWi

    SXSW seems a long time ago, in reality it all started a week ago and then five jampacked days occurred. I’m currently writing this at 11AM Friday, after departing Austin at 9.30AM Yesterday, and arriving back in Birmingham at 5.55AM this morning.

    As I have mentioned before, the schedule is busy, stupidly so, punishing so. As you can see from below, there always would be, and there were, scheduling clashes.

    I managed to pre-filter some of these down to a ‘top five’ or even ‘top seven’, and in some cases I ignored my pre-selected items to go for something that caught my eye. In the majority of the sessions I took notes, but I’m not going to bore you all with the details of what went on. Instead, I’m noting down what sessions I attended (mainly for my own benefit), and will be linking to my notes where appropriate. [This is to come, once I've tidied them up -bookmark and checkback if interested]

    As with any event with hundreds, or thousands, of other people in the room there will be a plethora of coverage on the net. I’ll try and link to the presenters notes, the twitter backchannel, and any other blog post coverage etc – so if my notes are a tad shoddy you (and I) can see what other people got out of the sessions.

    Smackdown: Consumers Privacy vs. Advertiser Revenue (OK)
    What Are Analytics? A Guide To Practical Data (Mediocre)
    Cooking For Geeks: Science, Hacks & Good Food (Fun)

    We F*cked Up: Happy Cog and Friends, Exploring Failures, Together (Great)
    Playing with Place: Location-Based Games and Services (Walkout)
    Opening Remarks: Privacy and Publicity (Amazing)
    BBC Digital Planet Live at SXSW (OK)
    Booze Blogging: Liquid Conversation (Great)

    Why You Aren’t Done Yet (Amazing)
    Ditch the Old to Build Your Dream Life (Walkout)
    Fans, Friends & Followers: Creating Your Own Cult (of the Non-Apocalyptic Variety) (Great)
    Search Patterns: Tangible Futures For Discovery (OK)

    The Art & Science of Seductive Interactions (Amazing)
    Social Search: A Little Help From My Friends
    REPO MEN: Extending a Movie’s Narrative Online (Interesting)
    The Next Generation of Social Media – Keynote with Evan Williams and Umair Haque (OK, part watched)
    Beyond the Desktop: Embracing New Interaction Paradigms (Interesting)

    Great British Breakfast (Decent)
    Pervasive Games and Playful Experiences: Rendering the Real World (Interesting)
    Swarming Plato’s Cave: Rethinking Digital Fantasies (OK)
    The Future of Music Delivery – Keynote Interview with Daniel El and Eliot Van Buskirk (Interesting)
    Interactive Infographics (Fascinating)
    Closing Remarks by Bruce Sterling

    As you can see it’s been pretty jampacked, there were a few times to relax and miss a session for a well rested recuperation lunch. There are only so many times that you can eat meals that solely contain of a snackbar, or free hotdog. In such times, silliness sometimes occurred such as Surprised Lego Kitty (there was a whole corner piled with Lego in the convention centre) and Audioboobs appeared. Or getting ready for the UK Olympic Shuffleboard drafting. Plus, sunshine breaks on the terrace are always a welcome change.

    The list at the top is just the daytime sessions, the evenings were varied. From networking meals, Dorkbot, Nuclear Tacos, seeing Motorhead play, getting driven around the place looking for parties, or watching We Are Scientists at the closing party. Too much to go into here, buy me a drink and I’m sure I can regale some story!

    You can take a look at some of pictures on my Flickr stream.

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