February 4, 2008
Just Because We Can ...
danah boyd writes a typically thought-provoking post on the prospect of exposing users’ “Social Graphs,” a meme that’s been heating up recently. Quick backstory in case you didn’t know: Google and a bunch of techy types want to make it so you can easily port your identity and contacts to any application on the Web. The advantages include easier sign-ups for different Web applications, no longer having to maintain the same information in a bunch of different places, quickly finding any contacts who are using an application you just signed up for, etc. Those of us with MySpace/Facebook/Friendster/LinkedIn/Flickr/vita.mn/etc. accounts are planning to be, for the most part, happy.
But danah makes the good point that those stumping for this move are all tech-savvy people who mostly have no idea of what the repercussions will be for some of the most vulnerable heavy users of the Web — teens. A typical argument in favor of more open data refers to what Tim O’Reilly calls “security by obscurity” — i.e. we have the illusion we’re secure just because all our data is usually tucked out of the way, but this is patently false, as any reporter could tell you. Exposing public data more commonly means fewer people will harbor this false sense of security, ostensibly making them more directly conscious of how they manage their personal data. But as danah points out, it could be an awfully risky way to make a point.