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The privacy +Jeff Jarvis and others have talked about recently is about secrets and the sharing of secrets. (There are other types of privacy, too, like the teenager indignant about the parent's entering the room without permission, or someone rummaging in your garbage, or someone data-mining your credit or medical information. But let's talk about secrets.) But Jeff is talking about it from the point of view of a broadcaster. Let me turn to the point of view of individuals.

It's surely true that privacy online is a hope rather than a guarantee. All secrets I share, no matter what protections I put on them, can be shared further; otherwise they couldn't have been shared in the first place. You can cut-and-paste, take a screenshot, paraphrase.

But the goal that circles and sharing controls try to address isn't to limit the technical possibility to share. It's to add online the social controls we take for granted in real life. I speak one way in front of a small group, trusting that they won't repeat my coarse language in public. I tell my closest friends I had a scary lab result and am waiting for a biopsy; I tell them I'd like them to keep it to themselves for now.

This trust is implicitly assumed in real life, yet completely absent in most online social-site interactions. The flattening and equivalence of "friends" is one reason. Once a person from my gaming group is included in a message about my scary lab result which I've shared "only with friends", her first thought is going to be, "why is he telling me this?" And her second thought will be, "I guess he doesn't care who knows it." And her third might be, "my friends should be reminded they should get tested, I'll forward this on." No malice, but my trust was violated.

The second reason follows the first: subtle hints, the fact that we pull someone aside before speaking, our hushed tone, our glances around us, our plaintive look, communicate that we don't want what we're imparting shared. In real life, we know we're skating on thin ice when we have to say out loud, "keep this between you and me." The in-band disclaimer shows that we aren't sure of the level of trust, or that our listener might misunderstand how privately we hold the information shared. Online, we have none of the subtleties, the in-band disclaimer is our only option, but with the ease of copying, "do not forward" warnings can come across as ludicrous and crass at best.

The spate of LGBT teen suicides that spurred the "It Gets Better" campaign put into sharp relief how serious sharing violations could be, and a lot of us were very passionate in thinking about how LGBT youth could protect themselves without isolating. Simply making it possible to share socially with a clear message that you don't want to share further is important. A closeted kid in a bad situation can find solace online, but it can result in catastrophe with one click of the forward button.

If you make it easy for that kid to share only with people he can trust, and to mark his message—subtly—with a signal that it's meant to be private, you hopefully free him to express himself and yet still protect himself. It can't be perfect, and it can't stand up to malicious betrayal of trust, but at least it sets up a system where sharing violations with devastating consequences don't come about purely accidentally.
Fox Alexander Circe (metaphorge)'s profile photoKevin Dunseath's profile photoPieter-Jan Vandormael's profile photoTrey Harris's profile photo
Love the quote "privacy online is a hope rather than a guarantee"
Jeff F.
I keep pressing +1, but it only registers one time.

Awesome post.
+Trey Harris Excellent post. A nuanced view in a sea of public-private dichotomies.

You said: "It can't be perfect, and it can't stand up to malicious betrayals..."

Perhaps it can help us note those malicious betrayals next time we post so we have the option to explicitly share with them or decline to. Here are a few thoughts along those lines:

I'm glad the conversation is evolving to reflect the more realistic nuances we live with daily.
I am, of course, going to share this with all my circles.
Extremely thoughtful and gives a great view as to why this technology does us all a favor by simply coming into existence and being adopted into regular use. It forces, at the very least, the concept of sharing. 
Yes you're right there but I think I meant to say that it forces us, to some degree at least, to think about the concept of sharing. 
+Robert Scoble is unhappy that his VC Circle doesnt provide the right content but that's missing the entire point of this, in my view. And your post highlights exactly what I view as this project's true strength. Sparks should provide my filtered content, whereas my circle-focused stream provides my outlet to share with the audience(s) I choose. 
Obviously I agree with most of the statements. Just keep in mind that the whole concept has a big cultural dependence as well. Other societies see this different and have different ways of sharing. There's also a globalization at play that you don't really want actually (heck, why presume I know what LGBT means?). I'd really like to know what my European friends think about all this.
+Pieter-Jan Vandormael I'd be curious to hear about how cultural norms are incongruent with the Google+ sharing model. Obviously Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms have made inroads globally, but AFAIK there aren't different sharing systems these platforms supply when localized.

Some subtleties will just be lost, obviously, some lines crossed... for instance, my public profile mentions my sexual orientation. In some societies, that would not be appropriate for public mention, and people from those societies can see my profile. But I'm okay with that. (The reverse is harder; what if you're from a country where homosexuality is illegal and would like to mention you're gay to people in societies where it's acceptable but not in your own?)
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