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Where's the Line Between Privacy and Publicacy? -- Part VII of Privacy-Publicacy Fault-line Series

Where is the line between preserving privacy and promoting publicacy? Most would agree there is a line in the sand somewhere where most everyone would agree that publicacy models (i.e. businesses that monetize making information that was previously private -- public) should not cross.

However, in reality there is a big wide grey area around that "line" that few have really thought about, or even tried to define, until recently. The causes of that vast privacy-publicacy grey area are at least fourfold. 

  • First, this is publicacy-technology-driven or technological-determinism. In other words, if new technology enables it -- it must be good/ok to do. 
  • Second, it is open-Internet-ideology-driven. In other words, if it is more transparent or more public, it is must be good, and if it is private, it must be closed, bad or hiding something nefarious. Thus open, free, public has become the default publicacy answer when they find themselves in the "grey" zone.
  • Third, it is "mashable-creativity-driven." In other words, if someone in a garage can mash it together and make it into something cool and innovative it must be good. (The corollary here is that there is no such thing as a bad mash-up only really, really, really long-tail mash-up.)    
  • Fourth, it is standard-less, ethics-less biz models. In other words, if its monetizable information, why not monetize it? 

What got me thinking about where the line is drawn or should be drawn was the uproar in Great Britain over Google's Streetview taking 360 degree pictures of people's streets and homes. See: San Francisco Chronicle, BBC, Times Online, TelegraphCNET, and Reuters.        

  •  Clearly these Brits and a lot of press thought a privacy-publicacy line may have been crossed here.

This got me thinking... where is that privacy-publicacy line and what would clearly cross it? For illustrative purposes only, would it be OK if Google or someone else:

  • Transformed StreetView from static historical pictures into real-time constant video -- i.e. Streetshow? 
  • Tracked people in the physical world via live Google Earth satellite wherever they go just like Google tracks virtual people wherever they click and go on the Web via mash-ups between Google searches and DoubleClick?
  • Created BeachView, a zoomable live video camera of public beaches?
  • Created StreetVoice, where in addition to taking a picture of every street, Google could record every sound or conversation on a public street using a boom microphone next to the Google Streetview car-cam?
  • Created CarView, where Streetview recorded license plates to link cars to homes, and allowed tracking of where the cars go?
  • Created VoicePrint, where Google could use GrandCentral recordings of voices and all YouTube videos to match a voiceprint to any individual's voice recorded in the Google database?
  • Mashed-up FaceView, an online databases of faces, combined with facial recognition software to allow people to use Google VoicePrint to match a voice with a face, and mash it up with a social networking service... that way if someone took a picture of a person, or recorded their voice with a cell-phone... a Google app could identify that person and then immediately search their background and a view of their house/street... cross-reference their interests in their interest-based advertising file, then mash up with Google Latitude location tracking through Android... so someone efficiently could learn everything about someone they just heard or saw... and then immediately find them. The ultimate mash-up -- this is where this could go if there is no privacy "line" on the Internet.  

In sum, without any thinking or discussion about where the privacy-publicacy line is or should be drawn, the forces promoting publicacy will naturally push until those interested in preserving some privacy push back or draw a line in the proverbial sand. If the recent Facebook mini-privacy-earthquake, or this recent UK Streetview privacy tremor, are any indication -- the privacy-publicacy faultline is due for a big earthquake sometime in the not to distant future.


Privacy-Publicacy Faultline Series here:

  • Part I: The Growing Privacy-Publicacy Fault-line -- The Tension Underneath World Data Privacy Day 
  • Part II: Implications of User Location Tracking
  • Part III: Extreme Publicacy -- Does Privacy Stand a Chance?
  • Part VI: Why FTC’s Behavioral-Ad Principles Are a Big Deal
  • Part V: Privacy prevailed in Facebook's privacy-publicacy earthquake
  • Part VI: Do People Own Their Private Information Online?