I’ve been having a retro-private, offline discussion with John on Girls Around Me, which has now erupted into the blogosphere. John summarizes the setup and pushes public data.
These sorts of apps are part of the future, and it’s not all bad. Stross is also right, but he’s right in a science-fictional way – no doubt a professional hazard. Public data can be a good but I can’t get away from an ethical intuition that this data is the wrong shape. It’s a glass building that bakes its occupants at midday.
I’m really glad that at least some people using this are making a deliberate, empowered choice to make their data public because they like the benefits and are comfortable with the risks. That’s tops. You go, young gendered person.
One aspect bugging me is the discounting of defaults that has gone with the transparent school of responses. As we know, pretty much everyone follows the defaults except a few unusually committed users. This is what libertarian paternalism is all about. It’s a well recognized phenomenon in usability.
Facebook and foursquare certainly have ethical obligations around their default settings, and they are systematically failing to think through them. Their model is too crude and it invites blowback. If it really is generational, as John suggests, they should cue based on age. If it’s geographic, by place. That doesn’t even start to address the one identity aspect. Walt Whitman wouldn’t have been welcome on Facebook. He contained multitudes.
Lastly, the app itself is a problem. The transparent society is well and good but the Girls Around Me app violated a key part of it. Its asymmetry was rude. The etiquette of a transparent society as Brin envisages it is tilted against the voyeur. It’s far more embarrassing to be spying on your neighbour’s bedroom than anything he may be doing in there. The crassness of this app is its fatal flaw, precisely because the social norms are new and not well established. It’s the loser at the topless beach ogling breasts with his tongue hanging out. If the app had required you to be signed in and broadcasting your identity on Facebook and foursquare – and perhaps had more variety in its objectification of women – it would rightly not have been seen as so threatening. ((All avatars are objectifications.))
Even by new, transparent, social conventions, Facebook, Foursquare and especially the app are cads, sir. Cads.