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.
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