SXSWORLD February 2013


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2013 Interactive Hall of Fame Inductee: danah boyd by Bill Simmon 30 SXSWORLD / FEBRUARY 2013 B R O O K E N I PA R I n her 2010 SXSW Interactive keynote address, social media researcher Dr. danah boyd described the disconnect between public expectations of privacy and the ways those expectations are addressed (or not addressed) by the purveyors of popular social media platforms, such as Facebook and Google. "Just because something is publicly accessible, does not mean that people want it to be publicized," she said. "Making something that is public more public is a violation of privacy." This is an idea that is both obvious and revelatory. Facebook and Google have each been famously blindsided by negative reactions to changes in users' privacy settings. But for users, who often become apoplectic when they learn that a shift in privacy settings has publicized their personal conversations, the invasion of privacy is an obvious affront. "I call it the 'like-duh phenomenon,' " says boyd, referring to the reactions of teens who get exasperated at their parents not understanding the basic norms of social media. Jessamyn West, librarian, blogger and author of Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide, calls boyd "a treasure." "Her (2010) keynote was an absolutely crucial look at the 'why-privacy-matters' angle that so many of us overlook in the quest for more and better ways to connect," says West. Much of boyd's work as a researcher occurs in a traditional university setting — she's a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, a Visiting Researcher at Harvard Law School, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center — but she is also a senior researcher for Microsoft Research (MSR), Microsoft's research division. "Microsoft Research is phenomenal," says boyd, who describes MSR as being based on the model established by AT&T Labs and Xerox PARC. "Universities are, for various reasons, not where the fast-paced research is happening. My team set up a new way of doing social science research in a lab setting." boyd says she and her MSR team are seeking to understand questions such as what do we understand about human-computer interaction, where are changes in technology going, and when and why do people become afraid of new technologies, as well as looking at the attendant socio-economic changes. "We look like academics," she says. "We publish. We speak publicly. The vast majority of what we do is research." According to boyd, her work with Harvard's Berkman Center is more applied than at MSR. In 2008, she was part of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, established by MySpace and the Attorneys General Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking. "I was the social scientist on the team," she says. "We synthesized what we knew about child safety generally, laid out the core problems, determined where the state of the technology was for age verification or other possible technological solutions and recommended policy." Not everyone was pleased with the group's findings. boyd says the Attorney General of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal (now a U.S. Senator), was convinced that age verification was the solution to the problem. "There's this image of kids being lured online into dangerous situations by strangers," says boyd. "We found, by looking holistically across the country, that image was inaccurate." She admits that young people do face risks online but says that for most types of online dangers, age verification does not solve the problem.

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