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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Is Digital Culture Changing Our Privacy Norms?

Last year, I moved from a single-family home into an urban two-flat. Since the move, I've come to understand my values around privacy at a very practical level. In a communal building, the focus is on sharing. I like that. But the trade-off is lack of privacy. In my new world, there's one master key that opens all doors. People will let themselves in to calm a neighbor's barking dog--a lovely gesture. It signals trust. It also marks the erosion of privacy. But among the co-habitants in my building, community is valued above privacy.

Privacy has been in the news a lot lately. (Disclosure: one of our clients is a privacy provocateur.)

As digital culture evolves, people are building communities online. But they are also beginning to wonder if creating a strong community means setting some privacy standards. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says privacy is an outdated social norm. But then, he's capitalizing on the selling of people's data. Nothing motivates a digital native more than the threat of looking like a luddite.

Other voices are balancing the argument. Danah Boyd gave a nice talk on privacy at SXSWCory Doctorow is downright passionate about the topic. He's joined the ALA's Choose Privacy campaign to rally people around the issue.

For some people, privacy is amorphous. For me, it remains a daily issue of identity--both online and in the laundry room and back hallways of my building. I'm grateful for that, because nothing helps us  navigate life than coming to terms with our values. My prediction: by 2011 people will understand that their personal data has value. And we'll expect businesses like Facebook to compensate us for it. And won't that be an interesting community value--digital socialism.

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