Privacy and Attention Dimensions

I’ve found it quite interesting recently to watch as a number of social media sites, Facebook, Flickr, G+, have introduced changes in the ways that privacy is controlled and attention is raised.

Grandad wonders whether the old computer will run VistaMost of us have an instinctive approach to both privacy and attention. We tell certain things to certain people, and not to others. I doubt many of us could, in most instances, describe this instinctive privacy by a set of "if…then…" statements. Most of us have a similarly instinctive approach to attention, we know which messages require us to raise someone’s attention directly, and which are just noise.

There are, however, a set of people for whom this instinctive approach doesn’t work. All of us suffer times when we get the privacy and attention approach wrong. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have passed on a piece of information I thought was public to find that it’s pure gossip. But there are also a set of people who’s privacy and attention framework doesn’t work the same as the rest of society, for some people this manifests itself as autism.

Today’s online communication mechanisms are a bit like dealing with an autistic child. So many things that are shouted in public should really be said in private. There are certainly things that aren’t said as loudly as they should be too. One of the major complaints of any online system is the amount of noise they generate trying to get our attention – "no I don’t care that you’ve just bought a sheep".

We try to apply a set of physical world metaphors to our online privacy but the current approaches still require us to think about who we want to see what when we post it. I think we still have a long way to go before online systems get closer to being aligned to our privacy and attention instincts.. 

There are a whole set of dimensions to privacy and attention that I don’t think we yet really understand, and we certainly haven’t done enough to codify them yet.

It was with that in mind that I read about the new capability on Flickr to create geofences. Geofences enable you to define a privacy level for pictures taken in a certain location. This is a new dimension to the privacy debate as far as I can tell. I have, as an example, set pictures that are taken near my home to be private to Friends and Family only (no that’s not the location of my home):

It might be a new dimension, and add to the toolset available, but it’s still not really how I think my privacy instincts work.

Facebook has always had an attention problem which most people don’t realise you can adjust already by turning off certain notifications. There latest approach to tackling this problem is the new lists feature. I say new, but it feels very much like the way that Google+ works, although I’m sure they’d argue differently. Again, it’s another dimension to breaking down the attention problem, but I still don’t think that my personal attention instincts work that way.

One privacy dimension where I think we are nowhere near codifying our real world experience is in the area of memory. I think that we are only just reaching the point where we are realising what a good thing our ability to forget is. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like the internet to forget certain things about me.

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