Research and Reading I (post #50!)
To balance the longer article earlier this week, I'll present two recommended research articles related to digital privacy and add some of my own notes.
1. The professor trying to protect our private thoughts from technology (The Guardian, 2023)
“Neural sensors will become part of our everyday technology....We have a moment to get this right before that happens, both by becoming aware of what’s happening and by making critical choices we need to make now to decide how we use the technology in ways that are good and not misused or oppressive.”
This short article presents bioscience professor Nita Farahany's claim that neurotechnology is just around the corner, and that we only have a short time to get our laws in order in preparation for invasive access to the private realm of our minds. She argues there is an urgent need for 'neuro rights' laws to deter intrusions into human minds, or the possibility of enabling governments to punish thought crimes. Her book, The Battle for Your Brain, was published in March of this year.
2. The psychology of privacy in the digital age (Wiley, 2019)
In this academic article, the authors ask why, with privacy increasingly reported on in the media and computer science journals, there has been so little theoretical development on this topic in the field of psychology. The more theoretical second half of the paper aims to combine four different existing approaches to privacy in psychology studies into one (complex looking) framework, but I found the first half of this piece an interesting read, offering surprising perspectives on the topic of my blog.
Points of interest
- The article cites privacy expert Bruce Schneier as a source for claims about the surveillance business model of the Internet. Something to look into further another time.
- The article relies on the definition for privacy of an individual's 'right to be let alone', but quickly moves on to more nuanced views, including privacy defined by context, space, time, and by groups. It looks at the privacy of our thoughts (see article 1 above!) and 'the revelation of them'.
- Interestingly, in psychology, self-disclosure (how people reveal information about themselves) is a separate field of study. The article points out the contradiction of the separation, given the obvious overlap between privacy and self-disclosure.
- Related to this point is the privacy paradox 'whereby people ostensibly claim to care about privacy but openly share information about themselves'(3). This is a constant point of frustration and bewilderment in the privacy communities I follow. I myself have begun to question the effectiveness of onboarding earlier this month in this post, and plan to continue examining the issue in the coming weeks.
The article then moves on to the theoretical section, outlining 'four lenses' (academics will never tire of the 'lens' metaphor...) in some detail and finishes with a suggested framework for unifying them. In that section, two interesting ideas stood out:
First, psychologists divide people into three categories in terms of their relation to privacy, namely: 'privacy fundamentalists,' 'privacy pragmatists' and 'privacy unconcerned'. Apparently, most of us are pragmatists, but one study showed a third of the general population1 fall into the fundamentalist category.
Second, the theory of Communication privacy management looks at
how people collectively manage private objects (information)—such as managing how far the boundary spreads (i.e., who co-owns the private object), how permeable the boundary is (how confidential), what linkages exits between private objects, and the strategies that people use to restore privacy when the coregulation expectations have been breached. (4)
The quote made me think about how we view gossip at the work place. Gossip is a deliberate disclosure of information that should be private, and always sits somewhere between disloyalty (unethical) and social glue (constructive). I think it is interesting that with each unique bit of gossip, it is the group involved in the process that has to determine where the boundaries of decency are. An individual can leave the room to indicate disapproval of where this negotiation is headed, or they can intervene to try and redirect the conversation to a more ethically comfortable middle ground.
I haven't thought about privacy as a group-negotiated value enough. In much of the discussion about privacy online, the focus is often on the powerful (governments, wealthy companies) and the powerless (the individual users, us). Perhaps there is something to be said for viewing privacy as a common good.
Helmore, Edward. “The Professor Trying to Protect Our Private Thoughts From Technology.” The Guardian, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2023/mar/26/nita-farahany-the-battle-for-your-brain-neurotechnology.
Stuart A, Bandara AK, Levine M. The psychology of privacy in the digital age. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2019;13:e12507. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12507
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I don't know the geographical location for the sample of the study.↩