Computers, Freedom & Privacy: Day 1

Creating the Future: An upside down conference

CFP09 kicked off today at George Washington University’s Marvin Center on a sunny Monday in Washington, DC in a day of workshops and tutorials. Rooms are filled with people who are passionate about the issues and proud to have been ahead of the curve on the subject. The world is starting to become more aware of privacy issues and sense from the conference seemed to be split between those trying to harness that awareness into action and those trying to be conscious of the risks. Of course, these two things were not mutually exclusive. In fact, far from it.

I’m always interested to see how different conferences impliment the tools of the day. Especially having just come from N2Y4 in the heart of Silicon Valley, I’m a bit spoiled. No plugs in the center of every table and secure internet, but certainly a bunch of web 2.0 tools to stimulate conversations. The Twitter feed is just about ubiquitous and so glad to see it. The official tag was #cfp2009 but thankfully gravitated to the more convenient #cfp09. It was also broadcast live through my favorite online streaming tool Ustream. Basic stuff, but certainly a great leap forward compared to many conferences. Where it gets interesting is Twazzup. This is a tool that mashes the two together to give people a strong ability to really get involved in the conversations. What are people linking to? Who is presenting? What are the main tags? Fantastic to see! The other is WetPaint – a way to engage in a group wiki without the immidiate hassle of login.

As for the substance of things, my day was spent at a few sessions, mainly:

  1. Twittering in the Trenches: Activism Using Social Networks
  2. Data Mining: Privacy, Transparency, Democracy
  3. The Web is a Dangerous Place

The first started with trying to understand blending technology, policy and privacy in the web 2.0 era. Soon the session became a brainstorm about how to get people aware of privacy issues. How do advocates bring a new generation into these issues. or in other words, will twenty something care about us or is facebook an anti-privacy campaign. It’s nice to be a “twenty something” at the conference so that I can defend the generation. I’m guessing it’s going to be a trend over the next few days, and we’ll see how open people are to both asking questions and listening to answers.

There were some great ideas and observations that emerged and it’ll be interesting to follow them to see if they sprout into new campaigns. My favorite was a response to a tweet of mine by Toby Shulruff (@olytoby)

@mbelinsky friends don’t let friends use privacy-violating apps? #cfp09

My point was that to get the next generation involved, there has to be a story involved. With my work pushing new technologies under repressive regimes I’ve found that people don’t necessarily understand how their use of social networking (and other) tools potentially puts them at physical harm. Neither do people in less dangerous circumstances. A successful campaign would harness the stories of how people are unknowingly putting themselves in the path of harm to raise consciousness. Showing people the extent of it all at once is just scary (Facebook connect tracks everything you do), but Facebook apps stealing your data to break into your paypal is much more compelling. Besides, to target an audience, get them where they congregate.

Another great step forward is trying to understand privacy the way that creative commons understood copyright. Keep it simple stupid! KISS is a simple marketing principle but a good thing to consider when talking privacy. Rather than making lines of legal mumbo jumbo big, bold and the first thing users see when they log onto Facebook, is there a logo that can pop up to understand what is happening to the content their putting there (as in CC) AND what access said company has to your information. There are some model terms of use out there and there is now a wiki being drafted to start pulling this in. My hope is that this truly gets momentum and that bloggers will pick this up into their blogs first, facebook second, and grow it from there to pressure other sites, companies, governments, etc.

Perhaps we can start with a modification of the CFP logo itself:

Half Private

Half Private

Private

Private

[Mostly] Secure

[Mostly] Secure

The second topic I followed, data mining, became a discussion between lawyers and researchers from what I followed. The main point that I took away is that outside of sector specific laws, commercial entities are not generally constrained from sharing information with the government. However, given the globalized world, companies are relatively limited in what they’re able to do because of the conflict between EU and US laws on privacy and security. However, that’s only relatively true, in part, given the lack of enforcement of these issues. Even more frightening is that “harm” is being defined as financial with the unexpected use of data by companies. While it’s certainly a problem that paypal information can be stolen and that is “harmful”, I believe that most people interested in the topic are concerned with larger issues of civil liberties, safety and humanity, not just finance.

As for the last topic, the web being a dangerous place, I’ll leave it with a point that I didn’t realize that people were still calling it “the web”.  otherwise with my last tweet of the day:

Fun session that’s going through various vulnerability demonstrations. Think you’re insecure? You are! #cfp09

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3 Responses to “Computers, Freedom & Privacy: Day 1”
  1. Liz Hodes says:

    What I find fascinating is being a “twenty-something” in a world of rapidly changing technologies and our unique relationship with privacy and the internet. I think of this also in the context of reality television (a medium we’ve been steadily bombarded with for, oh, 5-7 years). Those of us in this age group are at the interesting divide between 1. people that, (in today’s definition of privacy), spent much of their young adulthood lectured about the dangers of the internet (told not to reveal last names, age etc) – and 2. a generation of people who’ve both had Facebook through high school, their personal details spread around the internet, but also become accustomed to seeing their friends and peers “playing themselves” in front of national/international television audiences, last names revealed (and that’s the least of it). As a reality television producer told me not long ago about on-camera interviews with 18-22 year-olds today, “I don’t have to try with them, they talk in sound-bites”. It’s in this way that I think people in their late teens/early 20s may in fact be less aware of internet security, as it is so increasingly “normal” to have very personal information strewn around the internet and other public forums. I also think with only a few years age difference, it’s difficult to approach this topic of internet security with “twenty-somethings” “thirty-somethings”, now it’s “eighteen-twenty two-somethings” “twenty-three- twenty-six somethings” etc etc. I’m eager to hear more of how one would approach this topic with these various age groups. Great post!

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