Data sharing and privacy are seen as black and white opposites in conventional wisdom. Everything is locked down, private, non portable. Or everything is open, public, and free-flowing. But data sharing and privacy are not black and white. In real life, people share and present information based on social context. There are gradations of privacy and information sharing.
At the recent Data Portability Summit, there was some excellent discussion about data sharing, privacy and context.
Truly Private information
There are times when it is right to share data in a way that preserves privacy. Family members use different photo services, and want to share photos with each other but not the rest of the world. A group working on mergers and acquisitions absolutely needs to keep information confidential. In these cases one give permission to family, friends, or business associates based on membership in a group.
Signal to noise, social context
There are many circumstances where information isn’t truly private. But people choose to share with smaller groups. Someone doesn’t want to bore all of their friends with information about knitting or rock climbing, when that information is relevant only to a few. Information about one’s political or religious affiliation isn’t a secret, but it may not be the information one chooses to share when meeting new people at a professional conference. In these cases, it would be useful to have the ability to create tags for the relevant groups, and share by tag. The tags can capture the nuances of subgroups: knitting hats vs. knitting sweaters, say.
There are circumstances when people want to start by sharing with a smaller group, and invite more people. Or start by sharing a little bit of information about common interest, and later share more sensitive information.
The signal to noise and progressive disclosure patterns are about the person sharing information. Stream filtering is for the recipient. Sometimes one wants to “people watch” a diverse stream of information. And sometimes one wants to focus on the current work project, or upcoming social events. Stream filtering is used by individuals who want to apply a context to the information they receive.
People use identifiers — dress or email address — to represent more than one persona. The same person wears different clothes, with co-workers, at a customer meeting vs. a barbecue.
Personal vs. organizational control
In organizations, there are some things that an individual may want to control, and some things that admins want to control. A person might want to share soccer pictures with the soccer league. An admin may want to ensure that people aren’t sharing the sports illustrated calendar widget.