almost 7 years on 2010-06-30

[LETTER] THE FALSE DICHOTOMY OF PRIVACY VS. OPENNESS, AND A FEW OTHER UNFINISHED THOUGHTS


below is a dump on where i am 'at' on a few fronts coming out of the last week or two.

a. 'privacy' vs. 'openness', a false dichotomy
there were several very high fidelity discussions at oreilly's foo camp this weekend about 'privacy' (the buzz topic of the moment and something about which i care very deeply - a sad overlap). it was the best discourse on the core of the topic i have heard / participated in, possibly ever... and i was really thrilled and honored to be included.

first, a functional economic framework for discussion: coming out of the discussion i do believe that i am working with a core set of frameworks that are useful and defensible. generally i think of privacy as an economics problem. all the pain we are feeling around it / discussing is simply the result of the fact that for the first time privacy is expensive and publicity is cheap (the opposite has always been the case). the reason why we have issues around setting up filters/agreements/etc. to solve privacy problems is that we are trying to figure out how to minimize the cost of privacy in this new world, and it is very hard... in fact, the reality is that the cheapest holistic way to get privacy still feels like defining the recipient list one at a time... which no one likes as a solution. so, coming out of some great conversations - i am newly confident in my lens.

second, no functional answers: sadly, i am also confident that i don't actually have any answers about what to 'do' about the situation. given my framework i don't think regulation is a good idea at all, in fact, all it will do is destroy value. i feel confident that we are going to live in an increasingly transparent world, i do think that is problematic, i don't think there is anything we can do about it.

third: publicity is not at odds with openness - this is a misstep in the conversation: if you use a purely moral lens / pretense privacy and publicity could be possibly cast as in conflict. i don't ascribe to that world at all.... rather, i believe that we need to think of both privacy and publicity as not goods in and of themselves, but as in service of driving worldwide knowledge, understanding, and ultimately innovation. openness is good because it means people share widely, which increases economic, social, and intellectual capital for everyone. i would argue that cheap and easy access to privacy has exactly the same end goals.

in simple terms -- if i have an idea in my head, the value for society is for that to be ultimately shared as widely as possible.... information, and the value it carries, should be ultimately diffused as widely as possible. openness erases barriers to allow that diffusion to happen and rapidly... that is good. privacy allows me to share things with a few people that i am not yet willing to share with everyone, which allows ideas that would have otherwise been crushed in the public discourse to be refined, grow, and ultimately flourish -- leading to the same ultimate ends as 'publicity'

sometimes ideas need shade to grow, privacy is critical to that shade.

in a totally public world i believe we would find actually less new knowledge being generated and shared in total when you consider the full feedback loop. i worry about the authoritarian ends of this, but the only real reason i care about the authoritarian potential of a world mono-culture, is that i worry it will impede our ability to share good ideas. could the american revolution have percolated without privacy? my answer - no.

simply put, 'privacy' is almost the 'slow foods' movement for information, and it is worth paying attention to it -- if you are interested in my older evolutions of this (with a few different points).
-- publicity-is-the-new-social-norm-and-heidi-montag-knows-it
-- why-the-balance-of-power-will-swing-to-information-and-entertainment-content-creators
-- value-of-information-vs-utility-created-by-information
-- real-information-services-will-all-be-subscription-based-in-5-years
-- the-privacy-at-a-tipping-point-a-month-in-quick-recap

unfinished thoughts for later:

- mobile > 'web': this is something people have been saying for 10 years, it feels real. i don't know why anyone would build a consumer service around the classic 'computer' based web ever again... you might still need a web presence for a bit, but you won't catch me every building a web-based consumer company again.

- dead weight loss: one thing that i really respect about the open source movement and orielly's phrasing of it is the 'give back more than you take' mentality. i totally agree with this. i am wondering whether another way to phrase this from an economics perspective is the historically counter-intuitive 'create dead weight loss'?

- robots need their own wallets: coming out of foo traditional 'robots' are very hard to define/think about as separate from connected devices/the cloud... my take on this is that it means that robots will be consuming common resources... which means that robots need cash "allowances" to be effective. this could be as simple as a robot being able to offer a human on the street a few dollars for help with directions / getting through a tricky obstacle course, or because a robot needs more resources to complete a computational task in the cloud.

- 'happy birthday honeypot": a while ago i wrote a blog post about how wishing someone happy birthday in the 'facebook' era was actually a social tax levied by the birthday wisher on the person having the birthday (the inverse of the historical reality)... at lunch with josh klein, a new facebook application idea (that isn't actually possible with the current apis)... have the app update your birthday and then auto-unfriend anyone who wishes you happy birthday on the wrong day. that would correct the situation fast.

- [think about] size of a collider, the size of the galaxy: from a conversation with an astrophysicist at foo -- there are some problems we can identify the scale of which is mind blowing. try this on for size -- there are properties about the universe that we would currently need a particle accelerator the size of the entire galaxy to figure out. that makes world hunger look like child's play.

- [think about] index investing: i don't think that i want broad exposure these days... i want exposure i can understand in assets i understand. i wonder if index investing / investing at the mean is something that is going to survive in the mid-term.

- [think about] usps as an open id provider: i have heard a few people suggest this recently. i don't think i want a govt. agency in the game emotionally (remember the seinfeld episode with the postmaster general), but it might make sense...

- [read] "10 rules for radicals" by carl malamud is an excellent short read.... rule 1, of which i am a clear adherent, "call everything you do an experiment"

- [skim] "the marketplace of ideas" by louis menand mostly the section on the history of higher education in the us is interesting.

- [do] eat oysters while driving down route 1 north of san fransisco.... a great sunday

- [do] check out roller-derby in los angles -- i met one of the players, she was awesome, it sounds like a blast.

- [don't] think you will open itunes after you have spotify / its brethern at your fingertips. i get very frustrated now when i am forced to open itunes (which i only do to sync my iphone for audiobooks)


original swl blogposts and letters 2007-2010