March 19th, 2006

Web 2.0 vs. Privacy

by just announced a new feature, created due to popular demand, that allows users to save links privately — this is astonishing, like Starbucks introducing a 4oz decaffeinated coffee that sells for 75 cents — it’s completely antithetical to the whole concept.

Could this be the beginning of the privacy backlash against the Web 2.0 “social” lovefest? If nothing else, it raises fundamental questions about the mainstream viability of the Web 2.0 value proposition, which assumes that everyone will find value in sharing everything in public.

Here’s a Web 2.0 test: pick any of the hundreds of Web 2.0 apps the enable users to “share” and see if you can find on the site an explanation of WHY sharing, tagging, and being social with your media is a GOOD thing. Do any of them explain the value of sharing, or do they all just assume, a priori, that all users will think this is just the best thing ever?

The privacy concerns are all around, from Google’s subpoena fight to the permanence of everything we post online, good, bad and ugly (thanks, Google).

Web 2.0 only works if we’re willing to cede any grasp on privacy by sharing everything we do online — even everything we think, through tagging, commenting, voting, etc.

What if most of us decide that the Patriot Act is bad enough? How can Web 2.0 be successful in an online world where 60% of long-time Internet users are deleting cookies because of privacy concerns?

Maybe this is the real digital generation gap. According to the Jupiter Research study where the 60% stat comes from:

Consumers showed a clear age divide when it came to paying attention to privacy or security. Only 33 percent of respondents between the ages 18 and 24 said they paid attention to stories and articles about Internet privacy and security, compared to 62 percent of those ages 45 and older.

It’s been much discussed (including here) how the 25-and-under crowd is more than willing to expose themselves on MySpace.

Maybe Web 2.0 just needs to write off everyone over 45, and everything will be fine. (Given the disorienting and cluttered design conventions, it pretty much has already.)

Comments (31 Responses so far)

  1. Web 2.0 vs. Privacy.” I’ve written frequently in this blog about the issues of distributed identity and distributed control in these new media and about Web 2.0 enacting a philosophy of classification rather than the modes of erasue seen in earlier social media. In his

  2. These guys live and breathe privacy, encryption, security, DRM, etc, and the common theme I heard from them was that consumers are willing to trade privacy for convenience, and that’s the way it is. It’s a philosophy I subscribe to, and have been havingrecent conversations about. I came away slightly depressed, however, and it’s because while the panel members agreed that consumers readily traded privacy for convenience, there were no effective suggestions about how to make the system work for you.

  3. fellow technologists address or want to concern themselves with – how MySpace has empowered millions of children to share their private lives in full public view, the repercussions of which are not yet understood. In fact, I’ve only seen one post, byScott Karp, and he was met with a chorus telling him he didn’t get it or that “no one has privacy anyway so who cares”. One oh his critics attempted to reduce the concern to that of a parent allowing the child to

  4. Ah, but Web 2.0 is not about sharing – it’s about data-mining of consumers, and finding the popular. Sharing is just one way of inducing consumers to provide material for that data-mining.

  5. This is a post-acquisition move by – maybe your Web 2.0 club card gets taken away if you’re bought by a Web 1.0 company :-)

    Seriously though, Yahoo is primarily a portal company. It gets to show you contextual ads when you go to look at ‘your’ pages. OK, not much advertising on right now, but I guess it’s a matter of time. In any case, getting more traffic to those pages is good. If you happen to have a lot of bookmarks you really don’t want other people to know you have – whether it’s because you have some strange fetish or it’s for business research you don’t want to reveal – and you want to be easy to get at them from anywhere, this looks like a perfectly good addition to the part of the service.

    I don’t think it’s a full-on backlash so much as the realisation that people have found they need to be careful about what they make searchable online. It’s the reason that people often have two (or more) Ebay accounts. Often, it’s just so they can buy presents without the rest of the family finding out the surprise before Dec 25.

  6. Scott, ask yourself why you have this blog. There goes the answer for many.

    Seth has a point however. By exploiting the human drive that we all have – to share ourselves with others – no one lives if they live in isolation – we are helping enable a data mining resource of untold riches for those that want to and can exploit it.

    Seth, you might have missed my MySpace comment here. A long winded version of what you just said.

  7. I want to add this:

    I know it sounds naive, but I believe the intent of those that have created these services is *not* to exploit – I believe services that empower people to communicate and connect creates potential that can impact our lives, our families, our communities in positive, powerful ways. As a software engineer – I can’t express the joy I have whenever a service I provide has helped someone in someway.

    However, it must be recognized the platform we have been building has the potential to be, and already is, being exploited by marketers, corporations, and governments, in ways we have yet to imagine. Contextual ads are the tip of the spear. By revealing ourselves so completely on the web, we are transforming the very nature of what it means to be an individual in a democratic society, while our human nature remains unchanging.

    Whether the end result is ultimately positive or negative is yet to be seen. I’m naturally an optimist. Where things have been headed these past few years have knocked that optimism down a few notches.

    What I do know is the laissez-fair attitude of some (take this response to your post: “The notion of privacy, as it existed pre-1994, is done”: is unacceptable to me. A conversation should happen about the long term consequences of what we are empowering our children, and our children’s children, to do: and empowering those that would readily exploit their openness to observe, track, dissect, judge and manipulate. Again, I talk of corporations and governments, not fringe nut-cases, enough press is given to them already.

  8. Karl, it’s all in how we’re allowed to think of this issue. Is it Big Brother, tracking and spying on us, compiling permanent dossiers in some electronic government file? Is it The Corporate Man, wanting to have a demographic profile to better to advertise and sell to you? Is it the Patent-Medicine Marketer, exploiting your hopes and dreams and pain to push a worthless product that’s supposedly good for whatever ails you? Some of these are far more socially acceptable ways of thinking, which is not the same as being accurate.

    My view is it’s mostly hucksters wanting to sell to you for themselves and corporations, because that’s where the money is. And that is exactly the sort of discussion which won’t get far, since that’s basically the media A-list (not all, but a large part of it), so they aren’t interested in that discussion, except sometimes to kick it. It’ll be marginalized, not echo and amplified.

  9. I will repeat this because I think I’ve said it before.

    The problem is not privacy. We gave up on privacy when we signed up for medical insurance.

    The problem is secrecy.

    People want to know what is going on with their data. That’s not a web 2.0 issue. It’s an issue for everybody.

  10. Ah what a nice way of putting it. To paraphrase – “It’s not the privacy we’ve given up – it’s what others are doing with our data.”

    A complete and utter dodge of our personal responsibility there charteuse.

    It’s our responsiblility to change the world for our children – wouldn’t you agree?

    We could do it now if we so wished. Instead we trade for convienience. And now we’re trading the future as well.

    Believe it or not, if we don’t want others exploiting our lives – then we have the power to stop it. It’s all a matter of priorities.

    We’re *choosing* not to. Which is what is so amazing about all of this.

    Seth, you’re right – there won’t be a good conversation about this – because the fingers point right back at ourselves.

  11. Oh, and it doesn’t stop at teenagers…’s a MySpace-like service for kids as young as 8 and 9 years old (!!!!) just got 6 million dollars in funding.

    THINK chartreuse. Investors are only interested in one thing – profit. So…. Why would investors find that much value in providing an online space for kids THAT young?

    I love this line from “Imbee will not open itself up to advertising initially.”

    Key: initially

  12. Nah, it’s not a backlash against Web 2.0 – just an acceptance that some things should be private, while others should be shared. You’re blogging your thoughts, so clearly you think the value of sharing those ideas outweights the risk that someone will use that data against you.

    Pretty clearly, the value of sharing is to get feedback (ie. blog comments) and to find other people like you without extra effort.

  13. To everyone who used blogging as an example (Karl, Pete), you should know better than anyone the huge effort it takes to manage the risks of putting yourself out there through blogging. It’s a huge calculated risk we take in blogging. We are complete outliers, not examples of what most people are willing to do for the return of feedback.

    The real questions is, given the choice between privacy and “feedback” (or however else you couch the value of participation), what percentage of the mainstream will choose privacy in most cases?

  14. Scott, I recognize we are outliers :)

    However, MySpace (and Xanga) == blogging without the technical bullshit + easier networking. It’s blogging in its essence.

    The folks on MySpace (and Xanga for that matter) are not outliers. For them, they are doing what everyone else is doing. It’s just something to do. Another way to make friends. Another way to connect and communicate.

    “The real questions is, given the choice between privacy and “feedback” (or however else you couch the value of participation), what percentage of the mainstream will choose privacy in most cases?”

    Yep. Absolutely. That’s why I’m happy you’ve pushed this conversation along.

    I think people are making that choice – right now – without there being an honest discussion of what the repercussions are. And I feel many don’t want to face up to that discussion because it forces people to face responsibility.

    It’s literally – “everyone else is doing it… there are huge benefits to you doing it… the only problems with it have to do with others… not you doing it… so you might as well too – shit – it’s in your best interest – so get hopping!”.

    I understand your concern has largely to do with advertising. That advertisers will learn to shy away from MySpace because it is unseemly and dangerous – me growing up on the streets of Philadelphia realizes that advertisers will put billboards on the sides of houses that should be demolished with crack heads sitting beneath them living cardboard boxes.

    Advertising goes wherever it can push. Absolutely wherever.

  15. Scott,
    People have been wanting this feature from Delicious for sometime and they finally go to it. The use is obvious: When I’m saving things for work or some secret project, I don’t necessarily want to share those.
    But the value of sharing is also obvious: If I tag pages under “diet” I can find what others tag under “diet” and we all benefit as a result. That has worked quite well so far.
    I think you read way too much into this — in terms of Delicous or Web 2.0. It’s a feature.

  16. Jeff,

    Read the announcement on the Delicious blog — they sound more than a bit wary:

    This is a big step for, but one that I hope will make it more useful. Because is all about sharing and we don’t want to discourage that, we will be watching how this feature impacts the community and will also be experimenting a bit with the UI over the next few weeks.

    So if you’re one of those antisocial types who doesn’t like to share their toys, this one’s for you. Give it a whirl and let us know what you think.

    And even if I did overuse it as a springboard, I stand behind the privacy questions I raised.

    Also, I don’t have to tag anything “diet” to find what others have tagged “diet” — it’s possible to take and not give, which creates the risk that not enough people will give.

  17. “which creates the risk that not enough people will give.”

    I don’t think there is a negative in that at all – it’s just human nature at work again. A terrific piece on this is Yahoo’s Bradley Horowitz’s “Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers”. Like Jeff implied, both creators and consumers can benefit. So where do you see the risk there?

  18. Ah, I missed your earlier post on Bradley’s piece. You’re worried about the work that creators are putting into all this, like yourself.

    What are you gaining here Scott? And what does an average user at MySpace/Xanga/Livejournal gain?

  19. Karl, people who are in the business of professional writing, broadly, can potentially benefit from writing a blog, in terms of it being an advertisement and publicity brochure. This is often overstated, but to be sure, there’s a kernel of truth in it. Elsewhere, diary-writers are socializing with their friends, and really don’t have much in common with pundits.

    The hucksterism comes in way, way, overselling the value of punditry to the vast majority of people who basically won’t benefit from it, and extolling the wonders of socializing when it’s really about the sellers making a buck off the consumers.

    Moreover, if everyone’s writing a free publicity brochure, the marginal benefit to each person diminishes, and the main winners are then the providers of publicity brochure services (venture capital is not investing in blog companies because of some hot air about blatherocracy – they see a new business in selling more shoe-leather to people who now have to run faster just to keep up).

  20. Karl-
    I reject your statement that my attitude towards privacy is laissez-faire (“The notion of privacy, as it existed pre-1994, is done”). My statement is a *fact*–show me, pre-1994, where you could search for personal information with such ease.

    The point I was making is that in such an environment, it’s useless to pine for the good old days. But, it’s significantly more productive to figure out how you can adapt to shape the system (whether through legislation, building your own, etc) and make it work for you. Conversations are the key to getting those answers.

    It’s not laissez-faire; it’s realistic.


  21. Kareem, “it’s significantly more productive to figure out how you can adapt to shape the system (whether through legislation, building your own, etc) and make it work for you. Conversations are the key to getting those answers.”

    That’s my point. What “pining” for the good ol’ days am I doing? I’m saying there needs to be a rational conversation about the tradeoffs people are deciding to make with their lives and the lives of their children.

    That’s “pining”?

    Your post had this line: “Forget about resisting the inevitable.”

    Well I can’t help but reject the idea that since things are, as they are, they will always remain that way, so you might as well deal with it and move on.

    That’s the definition of laissez-faire dude.

    Things change if we want them to change.

    Call me a dreamer and call yourself a realist. Fine. I’ll take it. I’d probably *still* be homeless or be struggling as a telemarketer if I submitted myself to that kind of belief system.

    Seth, I think I agree with you. Although I think there is a tremendous value in using blogging/MySpace/Xanga for diary writing and connecting with others – without all the bullshit we attach to it.

    Somedays I feel like re-reading “Small Pieces Loosely Joined”. Small Pieces elegantly puts together all of this, in a way that can’t help but make you inspired *and* grounded. Think I will.

  22. Karl,
    I don’t believe I called you a dreamer; in fact, I agreed with you in that a conversation needs to happen.

    However, the “inevitable” of which I write is the inevitable loss of privacy. Regardless of how much we (or our children) choose to reveal online, data about all of us can be found pretty easily that we wouldn’t dream of making available.

    It’s hardly laissez-faire when you can’t stuff the genie back in the lamp.

    But the question I’m asking is: in such a world, how does one benefit?


  23. I’m not suggesting ‘putting the genie back in the lamp’ or even trying.

    But what is starting to happen – I’d say since blogging started to take hold – and now since social participatory media is grown exponentially (of which a service I run can be defined) – is an acceleration of that loss of privacy – by *choice*.

    We’rr moving – now – right now – because finally the barriers have fallen and it’s so easy – to having our identities exist in the super public (new Danah Boyd essay). It’s not fear mongering or pining to urge for conversation and thinking over the long term consequences of what is being decided – by us – today.

    Far too many are concerned about the ‘threat’ to morals this can bring. The far more worrisome threat – as far as I can see – is from those entities who can, and will, use the data we are now willingly giving up – in ways we can’t imagine – and because we don’t want to.

    There should be warnings – and in fact I will add one to my service now that I think of it – that state – “while we respect your privacy, since your participation is public – there is nothing we can do to control foreign spiders – such as search engines and aggregators – from collecting – collating – and re-using your participation in ways that our out of our control”.

    We are choosing to live like celebrities – with public lives – and that means we will have the same loss of privacy they deal with – without being celebrities ourselves.

    And that’s *by choice*. No one is forcing me to blog or post links to It is *by choice*. I’m personally giving up my privacy fully aware of what the long term repurcussions are.

    Are you so very sure your average 15 year old on MySpace is aware of that decision? Really?

    Are parents sitting down with their children and going “now remember joey – everything you post on the public web will be cached *forever* so you better think twice about sharing initimate details of your friendships – or even the books you’ve read – because there *will* be consequences”.

    You think so? Really?

    The evidence says entirely otherwise. It shows a complete lack of awareness. Instead we will learn the hard way I think.

  24. Oh, and and just to illustrate how far we’ve come in just four years:

    As recently as 2002, there were concerns over’s use of our data. Data voluntarily given out of public view, data that would have needed a warrant to acquire by the government, data that a hiring company or a future girlfriend would not have access to. must be kicking themselves. The forerunners of participatory media didn’t foresee that we’d throw such concerns out the window with the right technology/ui/hype-machine. This article on Amazon especially seems silly now doesn’t it?

    So here we are, shrugging and saying “deal with it” at kids revealing who their friends are, what music they love/hate, what politicians they love/hate, pictures, what books they’ve read, what they did last week in the lunchroom, in *full* public view. An activity that has just started – just started – these past two to three years.

  25. [...] A lot of smart people are wringing their hands at what is, in my opinion, a 20th Century problem. And that’s privacy. [...]

  26. Are you so very sure your average 15 year old on MySpace is aware of that decision? Really?

    Are parents sitting down with their children and going “now remember joey – everything you post on the public web will be cached *forever* so you better think twice about sharing initimate details of your friendships – or even the books you’ve read – because there *will* be consequences”.

    You think so? Really?

    I don’t think kids have the slightest idea about the potential long-term repercussions of what they’re doing. In fact, I said as much in my post that you cited, above:

    And if you’re posting information about yourself on the internet, realize there could be consequences down the road.

    The crux of my argument is that it won’t matter what information you’ve posted out there, because *everybody* will be in the same boat.

    It is transitioning between here and then (which Michael Parekh thinks will take a generation, and I agree) that will be awkward.


  27. [...] A few articles recently about the dangers of posting too much personal information online, when a future employer can potentially find it. Yahoo has some horror stories, including people fired for criticising their employers, or posting about drug use. Michael Parekh has similar comments about MySpace users. Scott Karp says that MySpace is a deeply disturbing place, and asks why everyone assumes that sharing is such a good thing, anyway? Web 2.0 only works if we’re willing to cede any grasp on privacy by sharing everything we do online — even everything we think, through tagging, commenting, voting, etc. [...]

  28. Karl – just a quick comment about Industrious Kid and .

    First, our company is self-funded by the founders. We’ve invested in our own business b/c we see a real need.

    Second, we’re not planning on ad revenue for this product – we’re building other products that are pure revenue plays. is about uninterupted fun for kids. It’s as simple as that.

  29. You ignorance is astounding. Here is a clear case against your verbose, pointless and vain article: is a bookmarking site. lets you share bookmarks.

    It can either only let you share bookmarks, in which case you share bookmarks you want to share, or it can let you share some bookmarks, which adds a new functionality that lets you bookmark your sites in a computer / browser agnostic way, including those you don’t want to be made public. Did I say not made public? Oh my gosh, I meant that you don’t want to share.

    So your emphasis WHY sharing is GOOD and your tearful lament on the fall web2.0 and civilisation is laughable wrong and pathetically misguided.

    Web2.0 (a phrase I hate, but hey, we gotta have up for dullards like you, something tangible to show a change, an incremental number) can be taken as a two pronged result of user fed data sites, as well as data sharing / flexible data access (xml/json across domains, mixing your calendar from google, with weather from wunderground, train schedules from virgin, and show times for after your meeting. OMG I said sharing!

    Sharing doesn’t mean YOU sharing YOUR data. It means being able to pull data from sites.

    It has nothing to do with privacy, you willingness to share.

    Now, look back up at your post and re-evaluate your existence on this planet after you wrote:

    “privacy backlash”
    “raises fundamental questions”
    “mainstream viability of the Web 2.0 value proposition”

    What a shit load of overly written crap presumptuous, empty, lethargic and trite bollocks.

    “which assumes that everyone will find value in sharing everything in public.”

    What? everyone will find value sharing? what assumes?

    “Web 2.0 only works if we’re willing to cede any grasp on privacy by sharing everything we do online”

    Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. Wrong. Some web2.0 apps involve sharing, communicating, building up content from other people. The idea of providing on online bookmarking service for ‘PRIVATE’ bookmarks somehow warrants you to decide that all Web2.0 revolves around open sharing of everything we do is poppycock.

    You now qualify bookmarks with the word ‘private’ as if bookmarks themselves are by default public.

    “How can Web 2.0 be successful in an online world where 60% of long-time Internet users are deleting cookies because of privacy concerns?”

    Now deleting cookies poses a threat to web2.0? How silly of you. I do not have the patience not the inclination to educate you on your foolishness here. Can I at least be comforted with the fact that you understand you have written the most uneducated post I have ever written?

    And now over 45’s find web2.0 cluttered. In fact, some misguided fools would say web2.0 is cleaner, simpler design and navigation.

    Maybe I missed that part.

    Do yourself, myself, and everyone else a favour:

    Stop writing, remove yourself from the gene pool. That would save me having to see your posts track-backed onto the end of otherwise innocuous posts.

  30. Internet Riches Made Easy by Bob Gatchel

  31. i dont have any strange fetishes, except for leather, oops did i say that out loud. oh well the entire internets knows now and forever right

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