Privacy matters even to those who are prepared to give it up


Last Christmas, hubby gave me Alexa (Amazon echo) as a present. While I enjoyed playing with it, hubby often remarked that I didn’t look like I was as tickled with it as I was with my other gadgets I thought I might just blog my thoughts about it.

I value my privacy. This may be surprising to some who know me to be very open and social on the Internet,… but I do. I tend to not confuse my privacy needs with my social needs and in fact, I firmly believe that paradoxically, you can be more private when you are very open and public for the things that you wish to be open and public about. And the paradox works because you also stop other people inferring all sorts of things about you which they might if you cut yourself out of social media. So if you have to infer something about me, let it be informed by my open and public postings. But generally, I find people inferring less when you are more open, but that’s just my experience as a researcher in this space.

When the HAT project came along, my level of privacy went through a step change. For at least a year during data collection, our engineers could tell when a door opened or closed in my house. For the sake of research, I lived with it. And I learnt from my own reaction and the reaction of others. Over the course of the HAT project we understood more than anyone, the trade offs and negotiations of privacy v services/benefits we had within ourselves for all the different Internet services. I came out of it with a greater determination to fix something that I felt was broken.

To fix something that you think is broken require you to embrace all of its brokenness so that you can understand it experientially, immersively, theoretically and empirically to help you design what might be the alternative. And that design is constantly in your head, revising and updating as situations change. Then the design has to be communicated to the engineers who are building the alternative, the product/economics/communications design so that transactions could be at the right places, aligned with the right motivations.  This ecosystem is technical, legal, economic and behavioral – all at once. The Internet is complex and its social interactions are highly nuanced, so to create an alternative ecosystem means an understanding of how to use the existing ecosystem to evolve into a new one. That means, occasionally, at least at the beginning, you behave like the natives. Hubby once said it was lucky I wasn’t a medical researcher because if I was I would probably be dead.

I suppose I am trying to explain why I, together with 6 other digital persons on the HAT project, gave up our privacy and why I am still continuing to give it up.

One of our partners noticed it. He mentioned to me once that for a champion of privacy, I am not very private. Instead, I seem to be the opposite, using the apps and services that are the worst in privacy infringement. I said then that to understand your ‘enemy’, you must hug them closely,  not just understand, but feel why their followers are following them. Only when you are deep within their clutches and immersed in their world would you truly understand what their weaknesses are.

And so, with that, “Alexa, play me a song”

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