25C3: Post-Privacy by Christian Heller

Christian Heller about the post-privacy situation

Claim: Privacy is doomed, there is a huge surveillance machinery out there. He calls it “the privacy-eating monster”. It’s growing well-fed, it’s ubiquitous, attractive (e.g. social networks) and becoming more intelligent.

The problem: Once information is in, it cannot be removed again

The other factor in this game is the “privacy-defending army” but their tools are ineffective. Laws are not working, Technology is insecure.

Moreover the new generation is not caring that much anymore about privacy, they are putting more and more information on social networks. The older generation (pre-myspace) is disappearing.

Thus it’s an eneven battle for the army. The battle cannot be won ultimately but it can be lost easily.

Thus “privacy is doomed

What is the meaning of privacy?

The core idea of privacy is self-determination. You can make decisions about your life while being free from interference by others.

Another aspect is “information control”. Knowledge is power and thus we want to control what information about us flows from me to others and the other way round. You also want to block yourself from others telling you something.

The third aspect of privacy is “intimacy”. This is sharing of privacy based on interpersonal trust.

Private vs. public space

In private space (house, backroom etc.) you are secure from scrutinity of social norms, you are not in public spaces (forum, parliament, newspaper, slashdot). You are a free individual in private space? You are a controlled conformist in public space?

But you can only do limited things in your private space. For more interactions you need to get out and enter the public space to interact with other people.

One example: Closed homosexuality in your private space vs. a gay pride parade in the public space.

He says that the acceptance of homosexuality comes more from not hiding it but from putting it into the private space. So the public space in this case is a good thing.

What might the world look like tomorrow if privacy is dead

One example is already there: The idea of sharing.

The new information economy:

  • no zero-sum game
  • the more you give, the more you receive

more information is better than less information

  • market runs better with more information
  • information more valuable (to the owner) if shared

The Hive Mind (some kind of global intelligence made out of many many minds interconnected)

  • growing with or without you
  • you gain more by participating than you lose if you don’t
  • it’s a good thing to have “superintelligence” available to you
  • it’s not really like the borg

The question is what you might lose: e.g. Autonomy.

You might become more conformistic because you conform more to social norm?

Redefining Normality

diversity instead of conformism. In the information machinery difference is good because difference is information. We are not in the situation where we have personalization instead of “Gleichschaltung”.
new normality: no normality. There is no escape from ever-increasing diversity. It forces an increase in tolerance. The society would otherwise not be flexible enough to keep all it’s participants together and would break.
The Googling Employer? He thinks one can question this assumption because everybody is somewhat weird, unopportunistic etc. He also says that somebody who has an empty record might actually be suspicious then.

(Editor remark: So that’s scary. I don’t have the freedom to hide something for whatever reasons?)

The question of identity

What happens to identity right now? It’s becoming more fluid and more volatile

identity multiplicity. e.g. one human can constitute many identities. trained to do that by e.g. role playing games, social networks etc.  But also one identity can be constituted by many humans. Think of anonymous. This identity is wired to many many humans

no static core identity anymore. You have an identity hyper-dynamism; 15 minutes of identity x. Identity is also changing. e.g. a recording of you 1 year ago might not reflect your ideas today. And it will be becoming more and more acceptable that your opinion can change. And identity viruses may freely change their hosts.

no more identity prison. You are who you like to be. You are not imprisoned by the idea of everybody who you are supposed to be and you don’t need to choose what to do that much based on your past.

(editor remark: What happens with reliability? Is this affected?)

Surveillance vs. Sousveillance

equivaillance: Idea of both sides being able to look at each other. Watching, documenting actions of police & co. You have societies where transparency is more important than the privacy of the policemen. But also others. There is also the things that you are documenting yourself. You have an alibi (example: Hasan Elahi).

transparency of force: no secret watching; open the camera feeds! We want to know what those people watch. We also want to see what our neighbours are doing in their garden. The more powerful something is the more transparent it needs to become.

freedom through total transpareny? worst case scenario, “better than alternative”. Is there still room for secrets of any kind? e.g. military secrets?

All this sounds maybe somewhat scary, so let’s have another look.

Control vs. Trust

What is the difference between trust and control?

It’s a question of lack of information. If you have a lack of information you have less freedom. There is fear, suspicion, mistrust. Therefore there is need for control. Will hard punishments help? probably not. So in the situation without control there is only little chance that you are caught. You also need to catch many suspicious people to check if they are the bad guys. The problem: You only have little information and this might make you suspicous. If you would have more information about somebody then this might not be the case anymore.

Abundance of information: more freedom. You have more trust then. Ignorance creates fear, knowledge creates trust. There would be less need for strict control or deterrence. You only need few, precise laws and easy punishments. You know exactly what is harmful and punishments can be lighter.

(editor remark: What do you need trust for then?)

He also says that these views might create many contrary opinions.^

Reading recommendations

Privacy” in: “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy”, 2006

“The Value of Privacy”, Beate Rössler, 1995

“The Fall of Public Man”, Richard Sennet, 1977

Facebook and the Social Dynamics of Privacy“, James Grimmelmann, 2008

“The Transparent Society”, David Brin, 1998


One participant: “I feel irritated. I am not convinced at all that e.g. you can make police will stream their beatings at demonstrations. I don’t think that this is not a really realistic suggestion”.

Christian: Yes, but this all is not a solution, it’s all speculation. The main intent was to throw out some ideas on how it could work out in the end.

There also was the question if you can force transparency on those who don’t want it.

End remark: Sound wasn’t that great so I might not have caught all correctly. The usual disclaimer of not everything being correct for this live blogging applies.

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