Abundance And Scarcity In Privacy

from the something-worth-thinking-about dept

As you know, we talk an awful lot about understanding abundance and scarcity around here, and how that’s really important if you want to understand what the future holds for a variety of different businesses. Failing to understand abundance and scarcity is a recipe for disaster these days. And the more you look, the more you realize that technology is creating new abundances and new scarcities in all sorts of places. Tons of industries are either already experiencing this (entertainment, content, publishing, news, software, etc.) or are about to (energy, health care, finance, etc.). But it’s also showing up in other realms as well, and Jeff Jarvis has a smart post about how it’s impacting privacy. He summarizes it in a very catchy manner:

Once-abundant privacy is now scarce. Once-scarce publicness is now abundant.

The concept of “publicness” is one that’s been getting greater attention lately (Jarvis is writing a book on the subject, apparently), but it’s this recognition of the flipside of privacy. As Jarvis notes, it used to be really “scarce.” It was very difficult to have large parts of your life public. It only happened for a very small number of people, and involved a lot of gatekeepers. That’s no longer the case.

The economics of abundant publicness mean that the old gatekeepers — editors, agents, producers, publishers, broadcasters, the entire media industry — overnight lost their power. That’s why they’re so upset. That’s why they keep complaining about all these amateurs taking over their sacred turf — because they are. What they thought was valuable — their control — now had no value. They can’t sell their casting couches and presses on craigslist for nothin’. They are being beat by those who break up their control and hand it out for free (Google, craigslist, Facebook, YouTube, etc.).

Abundant publicness also creates new value. Google search is made up of that value. Twitter movie chatter predicting box-office success is that value. Annotations on maps, restaurant reviews, health trends, customer desires — and on and on — all find value in our publicness and so new companies are being built on that value. That is why it is in the interests of both companies and customers to be public and why privacy — when it does compete, when it discourages publicness — becomes a nuisance for them.

I don’t totally agree with this. I think he takes the argument slightly too far in the name of simplicity. That is, I still think that many of the jobs carried out by those old gatekeepers — editors, agents, producers, publishers, broadcasters, the entire media industry — actually do still have tremendous value. But a lot of how it works has changed. The problem is when they focus solely on the gatekeeping function as the value (which is Jarvis’ point — many really hung their hat solely on the gatekeeping function), then it’s difficult for them to adapt. Those who focused (and still do) on providing greater overall value beyond the gatekeeping still do have tremendous value. As proof that Jarvis believes that, just look at his post about that new book he’s working on where he talks up his “brilliant editor” at publishing giant HarperCollins. There’s value there, it’s just not in gatekeeping.

The other point in all this, which Jarvis mentions more as an aside, is that this is really just looking at the economics of free from a different angle. That is, the reason that such “publicness” is so abundant is because it’s so easy for people to spread their works (and share the works of others) for free. And that increases the value of other things that you might do.

Jarvis focuses on the “publicness” side of the equation, rather than the privacy part of it, but the idea that “once abundant privacy is now scarce,” is also fascinating to think about as well, and certainly fits with various themes that have been communicated over and over again — often as simply as Scott McNealy’s famous: “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” I don’t think we’ve quite reached the stage of the David Brin-style world where radical, extreme transparency replaces privacy, but if you want to extrapolate out some interesting scenarios, it’s fun to at least pull the lever that far in thinking about what it would mean.

Instead, I actually think that it highlights the theme of the post we recently had about how everyone has something to hide. As privacy becomes more and more scarce, those things we have to hide actually become increasingly valuable as well. Being able to keep that privacy increases in value. And that is going to lead to some very interesting and controversial business models and situations over time.

It’s all a very interesting subject that I’m sure we’ll be talking about a lot around here over the next few years.

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Comments on “Abundance And Scarcity In Privacy”

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Jim Harper (profile) says:

How About "Publicity"?

Such an awkward locution Jarvis uses — “publicness” — rather than the word that describes what he means: “publicity.”

He says “publicity” is too “freighted with marketing meaning,” but the marketing sense is correct. When they go to bars to see and be seen, people are seeking publicity, marketing themselves to the audiences there. When they Tweet or post pictures online, same deal.

Scott Cleland made up a word, “publicacy,” rather than publicity.

I think these folks are complexifying concepts that are fairly simple.

Jim Harper (profile) says:

Re: Re: How About "Publicity"?

Word. I wrote a long-ass comment over on his post about “publicness” vs. “publicity.”

Thinking out loud about the substance of his post, I also concluded that I don’t think talking about these two human interests as being *categorically* scarce or abundant is actually helpful. So I seem to want complexification along a different axis.

Now can I get a shout-out for coming up with the stupid verb “complexify”? I’m having a really good time with the irony of doing that while I go all primly semantic on Jarvis! (Chronic joke-explainer, I am…)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: How About "Publicity"?

Ha! Thanks for saving me the trouble of googling that word. I’d recently sworn to someone that ‘orientate’ was a made up word, but I was wrong.

(still hate the word ‘orientate’, tho. seems an over-complexification of ‘orient’).

‘Publicness’…ugh. De-privatating? Unprivation? Publicating? Anyway…

I know my info is being mined all the time, and yet I still hate it. Especially with the internet (and businesses too, I suppose, like credit card issuers). I’m not the sharpest tool in the tech shed nor do I have hours to waste reading every obtuse legalese’d thing thrown at me, and they prey on that, or lock me into it with a yards-long TOS or EULA or privacy statements I have to agree to so I can proceed. I’m not necessarily afraid of ID theft or being stalked or anything (I stay clear of Facebook and the like), it just…bugs.

I’m important enough to mine but when I have an issue with it I suddenly don’t matter.

I’ve been in a situation where I was tasked with helping someone who’d been impersonated for obtaining several credit cards, and I know what it’s like to have nothing to help out on your end but those guilty of making such a thing possible have all the information – and they won’t give it to you, your private information is now private from you! Those kinds of gatekeepers should scare the hell out of anyone.

Jarvis crystallized a great point, for me, regarding the changeover for those making a living from publicizing people, however he wants to term it. Might we see a blossoming privatizing industry? How to stay off-the-grid type services?

Oh, I don’t like that at all. I wish I hadn’t gone there.

vrob (profile) says:

Re: How About "Publicity"?

I think it might be the four years I spent studying philosophy talking, but I get why the term “publicness” makes sense. It looks awkward, and it sounds awkward, but this phenomenon is still so new that we have not yet created the appropriate signifier for it. The traditional practice in philosophy is to add the suffix “ness” to a word in order to signify something greater than the connotation typically attributed to that word. For example, in order to talk about the qualities of a “chair” without being held to the qualities specific to one or more or any actual chairs one may use the term “chair-ness.”

I agree with you that “publicness” includes a marketing element, but I also agree with Jarvis that “publicity” is not the right term. People who “Tweet or post photos online” are engaged in self-promotion rather than publicity in my personal lexicon. The term “publicity” is too intertwined with traditional notions of commercial advertising to be appropriate here. I am also of the opinion that “publicacy” is at least as awkward as “publicness” if not more so.

We should start a campaign here in the Techdirt forum to come up with a better word for this phenomenon than “publicness” or “publicacy.”

Jim Harper (profile) says:

Re: Re: How About "Publicity"?

Turns out I had more to say on the word choices. Try this on, cross-commented straight from Jarvis:

A further thought: With my preference for “publicity,” I’m focusing attention on the human actors involved, what they’re doing, and why. To illustrate: When I switch my Facebook status to “single,” I give publicity to that fact, probably because I’m out looking. I’m in charge of whether it goes out, and it’s availability is something I’m responsible for.

When we talk about “publicness,” the focus is on the data, treating it as the object of other (possibly hidden) forces. A change of status on Facebook has a “publicness” that’s different from similar announcements on other media in the past. That’s worth talking about, of course, as such.

In sum, each term may be useful in its way. I want people to be responsible for taking steps to protect their privacy — yes, many are woefully uninformed as to how — because it’s the best way to get their privacy adequately protected across all media and circumstances. Thus, my preference for focusing on people with the word “publicity.” …

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: How About "Publicity"?

Jim, I see where you are coming from, but I agree with Eric that the term “publicity” is “too freighted with meaning” to be an accurate descriptor for this relatively new phenomenon.

I also have to disagree with one of your statements: changing a profile status to “single” on FB does not “give publicity” to that fact. It seems more appropriate to say that the person has “publicized” that fact. An individual person does not typically “give publicity” unless that person is Oprah, they “seek publicity.” Hence the saying, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

This is the crux of the problem, the term “publicity” has become too intertwined with the economic agenda embodied by the advertising and marketing industries to be helpful in a discussion about privacy issues. These days, “publicity” is generally understood as being about products rather than people as individual beings. Some people want to become products (I am looking at you Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, etc.) but most people do not share that agenda.

That said, I am still leaning towards “publification” as an alternative to “publicity.”

(sorry if this posts twice – technical malfunction)

Eric Reasons (profile) says:

Re: How About "Publicity"?


More than anything else, I think that the fact that there are at least 4 people that publicly wrestled with some sort of neologism to describe this phenomenon tells us that the English language was lacking a proper descriptor.

“Publicity” just doesn’t sit well enough to encapsulate the concept for many. As Jarvis said: It’s too “freighted with meaning”.

From January:

Adam (profile) says:

You always use the word “free” when discussing digital distributions of any kind, Mike, but it really isn’t free to use the Internet. First, there’s ownership of a suitable browsing device, then a monthly cost of being “connected” or having a web site/blog/etc. hosted, a fee for registering a name for it, software to interact with it, the list goes on. What’s happened here then is a shift in who gets paid rather than the payment.

isthisthingon (profile) says:

Re: The word "free"

I’d strongly recommend reading Free by Chris Anderson, not just because you would then understand what all this talk is about, but because it’s very important to grasp.

Free can be easily switched with the concept of too cheap to meter. And yet you might think, well at least *somebody* has to pay for all this stuff! True, but when these costs are diluted to a point where the value of the product or service is worth more when it is given away for free – like table salt – then it becomes a member of the “free” family. Keep charging per grain of salt, no matter how cheap you make it, and your competition giving it away will put you out of business: making good money selling food while giving away the free salt.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What’s happened here then is a shift in who gets paid rather than the payment.

Yes, I am spending more money than ever on media, but as you said, it is going to monthly connectivity fees, etc. It’s no longer going to content creators (e.g., book authors, magazine publishers). And other expenses have also gone up (e.g., fuel costs, health insurance), so what might have gone to content creators in other forms (e.g., concerts) is now going to basic living expenses.

My life is no more “free” than it ever was. I’m redistributing the same amount of money, but giving some bill collectors more and others less. Whatever gets freed up in one place ends up going somewhere else, and usually not in the same industries. As one thing gets cheaper, something else (usually a necessity) gets more expensive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Actually I apologize, I didn’t read what you were responding to and I took what you said out of context.

Yes, it’s true that your money gets redistributed but there is also a marginal propensity to save. Say something that you spend $30 a month was all of a sudden provided to you for free. Now you’re not spending that $30 a month so your net income has just increased by $30 a month. You will naturally spend some of it and save some of it.

If one thing that you spend money on gets cheaper you will save some of the money that you no longer have to spend on that thing and you will spend some of it. Some of it may be spent to get more of that same thing, some of it may be spent on other things.

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“Yes, it’s true that your money gets redistributed but there is also a marginal propensity to save. Say something that you spend $30 a month was all of a sudden provided to you for free. Now you’re not spending that $30 a month so your net income has just increased by $30 a month. You will naturally spend some of it and save some of it.”

So, if I make $500/wk and quit buying a subscription @$30/wk, I now make $530/wk?

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Well your theories really suck.

I’m working on an economics piece right now on art and the gift economy. It’s been covered before, but I notice that it’s starting to creep back into music discussions again, so I want to explore what it will mean for artists and whether or not it is sustainable. The gift economy is different than pay-what-you-want or “give some stuff away for free and sell other stuff.” It’s based on giving it all away. Burning Man is probably the best example operating right now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

People give to charities and charities are sustainable. So long as the govt doesn’t interfere and destroy the process for the sake of enriching selfish corporations (and to some extent they already do by limiting cableco, broadband competition and by requiring broadcasting licenses to use public airwaves that everyone has a right to freely send and receive info on) then people freely sharing their art and music will continue. History has always been filled with people freely sharing their art and music, mostly as a means to express themselves and not necessarily for profits. IP laws are just a scam implemented by corporations as a step to charging monopoly prices for things that should be free.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

But in all seriousness, why do you have a problem with an artist who wants to create music and art and movies and give it away under a CC license? You don’t have a problem with charities do you? So why should you have a problem with such free music and art? Yes, it will compete with those who want to charge monopoly prices for their music but that’s free market capitalism. Why are all the monopolists so gun ho about stopping the ability for people to create music and art and movies and release it under a CC license? Why aren’t these same people doing anything to stop people from donating money to charity?

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

I think making art and giving it away is the past and future. And I have been in talks with people about creating a non-profit which will support some musicians.

I have no problem at all with the concept. I think it is more the reality than monetizing music.

But I don’t think the charity model is actually what a gift economy is.

In just a year or two we have gone from excitement about having people running their music careers as small businesses to now some people talking about a gift economy where you don’t expect any financial return.

So the bigger question is how the artist survives when no money is coming in. In some situations, like Burning Man and small scale gift communities, no money changes hands. You share what you have and it’s all supposed to work out. It’s a bit utopian, but whenever capitalism starts getting ugly, it begins to look attractive again.

What really necessary for a gift economy is a strong sense of community. You need to actively be involved with what the people around you are doing.

What I try to do is to encourage more friendly talk in these discussions precisely because getting along is something that tends to be necessary if you want to replace money and government with user-generated communities. You have to work out your differences in ways that don’t polarize people or it doesn’t work. Eliminating laws and government usually requires replacing that with active participation. It can be more work than just letting the government handle it. Sometimes you have to meet with your neighbors nightly or weekly to get things worked out. It’s like being married but to a bigger group of people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

“But I don’t think the charity model is actually what a gift economy is. “

So exactly what’s the difference?

“It can be more work than just letting the government handle it.”

How so? How exactly does the govt handle it and how does the governments handling of it not require work?

If anything the govts imposed monopolies have made it more expensive and more work to handle it, now you need a pricey license to broadcast your work and you can’t get it on cableco without first going through the govt imposed monopolist gatekeepers.

Not to mention what the collection societies have done to make it more expensive to get your music out in restaurants even if you agreed with the restaurant owners that they can play your music for free (because then these collection societies demand payment or else threaten with expensive lawsuits under the pretext that someone might infringe).

So please tell, how has the govt made the process easier. They seem to only have made it more difficult if you ask me.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

I’ll get into the difference between charity and a gift economy after I finish my article.

So please tell, how has the govt made the process easier. They seem to only have made it more difficult if you ask me.

I’m not talking about copyright. I’m talking about any function that the government has assumed. Take prisons, for example. If the local government isn’t running it, then the community has to decide how to deal with disruptive people. It may be easier to pay the government to hire police and set up a prison than to ask each person in the community to personally chip in enough money to set up a prison.

There are many tasks in life that need to be done, and either you tax people and have the government do it, or each time you need something done, you need to get the community together, talk about it, price everything out, take up a collection to pay someone to do it, or you need to ask people in the community to take on the jobs themselves.

If you have ever lived in a community with a home owners association, you may find that the HOA is actually more stringent than your local government or zoning commission. The HOA may dictate what color to paint your house, whether or not you can have Christmas decorations, etc.

I live in a big condo complex. The HOA meets, decides what needs to be repaired, and then bills us. So in any given year, our HOA fees go up or down (usually up) to pay for whatever the HOA has decided needs to be improved.

PandaMarketer (profile) says:

Emergency Response

The only good thing about a land line is 911 caller ID for emergencies. I’ve had to use my cell phone in an emergency and the operator need me to tell her my current location with an address, which wasted valuable time.

Sure, they could use triangulation, but that also takes time to invoke since it’s not done on every cell call to 911.

If not done so already, there should be a system where anyone can “register” their cell’s number with 1 or 2 default locations: home & work.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Emergency Response

The only good thing about a land line is 911 caller ID for emergencies.

And fewer battery problems (in my experience), or none if it’s corded. And better reliability. And potentially cheaper, especially for heavy usage. And easier to use as a phone for a whole household rather than one person. And easier to have many phones in different rooms for the same phone number. But other than that, yeah cell phones are better.

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