Privacy Interview

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Interview for WEAVE-magazine (german)

  • With Timour Chafik

„Loss of Privacy“ Interview w/ Amber Case ( for WEAVE Magazine (

1/ Cyborg anthropology : how did it change in the last couple of years?

More people are using technology now, so more people are aware of the role it plays in their lives and seek to understand it more. Cyborg Anthropology is a toolset for understanding how technology affects our cultural and social roles.

2/ … and which role does the construct of privacy plays in it?

Today there are a lot of people posting information online under their real names. Unlike the virtual worlds and message boards of the early web, people are using their actual identity online instead of experimenting with multiple personas. The Internet has become an extension of many people’s identities, and protecting who accesses information associated with that identity is important.

3/ How did privacy changed in the last - lets say - 10 to 15 years? Is it good? Or bad? Do we have to define privacy in a different way today? If so: what would be your definition? And do we have to learn privacy in a new way?

A lot more personal information is online. It is increasingly written rather than spoken, so words can escape the situations and people they are intended for. It is both good and bad. It is good because the speed of communication has accelerated. It is bad because people are not used to some of the effects of communicating in this way. We could define privacy today as the ability to control one’s personal information and data without being surprised. We have to learn how to communicate and handle information in a new information space.

4/ If we need new means, new rules concerning privacy: how can we learn them?

We learn, as humans, though trial and error. There is no right or wrong until someone tries something and discovers that something went well or failed greatly. Each time a new lesson is learned, it generally spreads through a community and then becomes a rule of thumb for interaction.

5/ If privacy changes: what does that mean in terms of relationships (digital/analog)? Do we have to learn relationships in a new way? How do they change? Will they be better, or worse?

I don’t know how to answer this question.

6/ And: do we as cyborgs need a special code of conduct? (In general but also regarding privacy?) If so: how should it look like?

Yes, and this code of conducts, or digital manners, is being created every day. From the person who walks outside to take a cell phone call instead of taking it into the restaurant, to the student that learns that it is not a good idea to call a teacher names on Facebook. These kinds of rules and code of conduct is emergent. It grows and changes with how we change as humans.

7/ What are the advantages of a loss of privacy (if there are any) ? What are the disadvantages (if there are any)?

There are a number of private things that people do that they never think to talk about. Talking about them online makes some of those private things a shared experience and no longer embarrassing. The disadvantages of loss of privacy are difficult to describe. I think people should think of what they post and share online as publically sharable content, and then hold private conversations in person. If someone is careful in what they say, they will not have the fears and concerns that a privacy breach instills in people. However, sometimes people can’t meet in person to talk about something private. Sometimes they may use Skype or Gmail. In the case of Gmail, E-mail titles and content are used to trigger advertisements. One’s Google history, if not erased, could potentially be very embarrassing. Researching an embarrassing disease, for instance, is not something that one wants to share with the world. There is a private side and a public side of interaction with the web, and I think people are concerned about the private side getting out.

8/ Does a loss of privacy means a loss of control? Or does a gain of technological independence means a gain of human autonomy?

Yes. The terms privacy comes from the Latin privatus, which means 'separated from the rest, deprived of something, esp. office, participation in the government'. I think now, more than ever, privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby reveal themselves selectively, and also have a right to participate in legislation affecting privacy.

It depends on the person. This is not a one size fits all society, but rather each person is armed with their own wit and intellect and understanding of how they participate. One can learn a good deal about privacy and use it to their advantage. One may not understand privacy so well and be harmed by it. For instance, teenagers have posted bad messages about their bosses on Facebook and have then been fired for it. They did not understand how far their message would reach and who would see it. People who do understand identity online can carve out their own identity, control perception and information. It is just like in real life.

There are certain things you do in public, and certain things you do at home. It hasn’t been settled yet what is appropriate yet to do online and to leave private. For some groups, private and public are blurring and it is completely socially acceptable to talk about private things online. Other groups are more conservative. It really depends on the group and demographicAll of this is very self-defined. It is at the very core of identity formation, simply in a new environment. Learning about the shape of that environment is the best defense against confusion, fear and paranoia. I think people who are most afraid of their privacy being violated are more worried about other people seeing their information than they are about a corporation using their data without their consent.

9/ As you say: we are relying on „external brains“: there is this ever discussed question if these brains are an opportunity or a threat. Your opinion?

You could say the same thing about electricity. Every day now we use light switches and toaster ovens. We don’t start fires to cook our food and candles to light our houses. Some of us no longer know how to make a fire. You could say that we are reliant on technology now. Most of us wouldn’t like the idea of starting a fire to toast bread every morning. There’s not even enough space or ventilation for that in modern apartments. Humans have moved past a certain point where these things are part of life. There are still humans who delight in making a fire and hunting deer or elk for dinner. That aspect of society will never go away.

Like all developments in this space, everything is an opportunity, threat, benefit, cost, harm, etc. It depends on who you are. Some people use the technology to absorb information and enhance their lives. Others watch YouTube videos of cats for hours at a time. Sometimes the same people that responsibly use technology are the ones getting sucked into those cat videos. As with anything, I think technology is best used in moderation. I am a little worried when I see people completely reliant on GPS navigation in their vehicles. There have been instances of Google Maps being wrong and people falling into dangerous roads. All of the indicators of danger were there in the real world, but the drivers kept following the GPS navigation.

In short, I think that taking breaks from technology is important, because it allows the brain to think wider and broader before jumping back into the digital fray. Planning should happen first in the mind, or on paper, and then into the digital space. Many people still do it this way. With a machine you may have a working space that is 500 miles deep, but only 15” wide. A piece of paper and a brain are far larger.

10/ Your construct of a second self: does this also mean we have a „second privacy“?

Yes. That’s a good way of describing it. If you have a good extended nervous system you can detect when something is invading your privacy. If you don’t, then you may be at risk because you haven’t structured your online identity correctly.

11/ „People/kids are no longer taking time for mental reflection“: what does that mean in terms of privacy?

Being “always connected”, or “always capable of connecting” is a drain on one’s system. Identity is formed in a number of ways. One is through interaction with others. The other is through the interaction, in one’s own mind, with the thoughts, memories and ideas that come to it. I think people and children are not taking as much time to reflect alone. Being alone is not often considered a good thing in some cultures, but being disconnected, taking a hike or thinking to oneself allows one to process all of the memories they’ve created over the course of the day. Many successful businesspeople and designers work this way. Their natural born brain is their best machine, their best tool in synthesizing their work together.

12/ And how can this, as you say, „end up to be more human“? What do we have to learn, how should we interact and behave?

Technology just amplifies our humanness. Humans now have access to a vast collection of thoughts and emotions from many people now, regardless of geography. People are collaboratively editing entire compendiums of knowledge together through Wikipedia. People are chatting over Skype so that they can feel close to parents who live far away. The Industrial Revolution split families apart and made strangers in the street. Now people can be connected to people that they love wherever they are.