Richard Guerry (Founder and Executive Director, Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication), discusses the misleading nature of the term “privacy settings” in today’s social media environment at #AskTheExperts webinar “PITR, IKR?: Youth and Communication in the Digital Age” on October 19, 2022.
[Richard Guerry]: I’m not here to kill social media, but here’s the thing. The problem with social media is “social and private” is an oxymoron, right? From day one, the problem is tech companies have set the wrong expectation and they’ve called these things “privacy settings.” And so people for years have had this false expectation of privacy. If you go all the way back to MySpace almost 20 years ago, at the day of this webinar right now, it’s kind of crazy how old that is, if you look specifically at the people who got in trouble with social media 20 years ago, you know what you’ll find? They were getting in the exact same trouble they’re getting into today. The only thing that humans have changed in two decades of time is not the way they think about technology. You know what we keep changing? The name of the app. And so why for 20 plus years, we have this perpetual cycle of insanity happening with people getting in the exact same trouble over and over and over again? Well, one of the biggest reasons is because tech companies call them “privacy settings,” and they set the wrong expectation for generations. What they should have done is just been honest with the public from day one. And ladies and gentlemen, here’s the honesty. This comes from somebody who’s been in tech through the nineties. There is no such thing as a “privacy setting” in a world that was built from the ground up for communication. This is a pipe dream. What we are all using. Maybe you have passcodes, passkeys, PINs, biometrics like face ID and thumbprint. What we are all using are not “privacy settings.” They are visibility or transparency settings. Because that’s all humans are trying to do every day. Every day we are trying to limit third-party visibility into our “windows to the world.” And please try not to refer to this as a phone, but rather a window to the world. Because when people see this as a phone, they see it is their phone, their screen, their password, they can do whatever they want. So they take liberties, and they forget about the fact that that thing right there has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and data. Not to mention clouds and servers backing information up. Think of this as a window to the world.
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Honorary Emerita Professor of Psychology; Emerita Professor
Sherry Turkle, PhD
Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology; Founding Director, MIT Initiative on Technology and Self
Sebastian Wachs, PhD
Deputy Professor for Education and Socialization Theory; Honorary Research Fellow
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