Flashers Among Us

Jessa Crispin reviews Islands of Privacy by Christena Nippert-Eng:

[T]he most disturbing story in Islands of Privacy comes from a woman who moved to a city for the first time and found herself constantly being flashed -- as in, that old story of the creepy man in the raincoat. She finally realized that she was somehow inviting this behavior simply by looking passersby in the face. There were enough perverts waiting for such an opening and expression of vulnerability to use the opportunity to reveal all. Once she developed the city “shell” that we all need to survive such close proximity, the flashings stopped. ...

Privacy is not simply about personal or financial safety, it’s about how we feel about the outside world. As a person with huge privacy boundaries, I look at the personal revelators and marvel at their comfort levels. If what we hide reveals what we value, what are we to think about the people who hide nothing but their social security numbers?

This is a free association on my part but if you haven't read Zadie Smith's critique of The Social Network, you should. Speaking of people who hide nothing but their social security numbers:

[Zuckerberg is the] type of kid who would think that giving people less privacy was a good idea.

What’s striking about Zuckerberg’s vision of an open Internet is the very blandness it requires to function, as Facebook members discovered when the site changed their privacy settings, allowing more things to become more public, with the (unintended?) consequence that your Aunt Dora could suddenly find out you joined the group Queer Nation last Tuesday. Gay kids became un-gay, partiers took down their party photos, political firebrands put out their fires. In real life we can be all these people on our own terms, in our own way, with whom we choose. For a revealing moment Facebook forgot that. Or else got bored of waiting for us to change in the ways it’s betting we will. On the question of privacy, Zuckerberg informed the world: “That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”

Smith misses, however, the liberating part of the end of online privacy. This from one of my recent now-paywalled columns on the subject:

When I look at Zuckerberg, I do not see Sorkin's caricature. I see the man who remembered hanging out at a pizza joint at Harvard with friends, as he recalled to the New Yorker, "We’d say, ‘Isn’t it obvious that everyone was going to be on the Internet? Isn’t it, like, inevitable that there would be a huge social network of people?’ It was something that we expected to happen."

And what excited him about it was its openness, the way it instantly connected people, removed barriers of time and space. In the bio section of his own Facebook page, Zuckerberg writes: “I’m trying to make the world a more open place.” The privacy controversies that Facebook has recently had - its code changed to reveal more about yourself as the default option, and it had access to private details of interest to advertisers - is an extension of this philosophy. What do we really have to fear from total honesty and transparency? Because the more transparent we are, the likelier we are to see the truth about ourselves.

And find the things we want to buy. If you don't tense up so much, it hurts less.