Monday, August 13, 2007

Secret Spaces!?

Ewan cites a taxonomy of "social media spaces" by Matt Locke that begins with "secret spaces," described this way:

Secret Spaces
Behaviours: Private, intimate communication, normally with only one or two others, often using private references, slang or code
Expectations: Absolute privacy and control over the communication between users, and no unauthorised communication from third parties (eg spam)
Examples: SMS, IM

Please do not teach people, kids especially, that SMS and IM give them absolute privacy and control. They don't, and I'd especially avoid the word "secret," unless I was teaching some applied cryptography at the same time. I don't know the law in Scotland, but in the US at least, the current precedent is, by my non-lawyerly understanding, that it is "reasonably forseeable" that anything a kid says on IM is not going to be kept secret and can be held against him or her in disciplinary and legal proceedings.

But even on a more basic level, sending messages across a network that can be logged both by the IM or SMS service and by the recipient is just not a good way to keep a secret, compared to, say, picking up a land line or meeting face to face.


mattlocke said...

Hi Tom,

I use the word 'expectations' in these descriptions very carefully. I'm describing the kind of spaces that users *think* they're in, rather than the reality of the platforms. I'm not suggesting that the platforms i suggest as examples actually *deliver* to those expectations, but that because users imagine them to be 'secret', then their behaviours will reflect that.

Part of the reasons I'm using beahviours and expectations as a way thinking is to get designers to think about what happens if those expectations are exploded - ie if a private text message or IM becomes public. In fact, this is one of the most powerful threats (or opportunities) in a networked space, and something you have to take on board when designing interactive platforms.

Ewan McIntosh said...

If you read closer you'll see that these are 'expectations' of the user, and you'd be hard pushed to disagree that privacy is the *expectation* of most people using these spaces.

Tom Hoffman said...

The problem is that the subtlety of the original meaning of "expectation" is definitely lost in subsequent repetition. Ewan repeats the list -- in professional development for teachers and his blog -- and it is just "secret spaces: IM & SMS." I'm sure that list will be taught in the future by other people with even less understanding of its original intent.

Ewan McIntosh said...

Unfortunately, social media is all about subtlety. If they're unable to pick up on the quite clear vocabulary used in the explanation then they're going to find it hard to explain to kids why IM and SMS might not be private.

The expectation is that these technologies are private unless trust between two individuals is breached or unless someone is contacted by a stranger. The expectation of secrecy has quite clearly been broken here much in the same way love letters being published in the tabloid press, kiss and tell stories, or high school corridor gossip renders the expectation of a private face-to-face encounter non-secret.

Chewing over nothing here, I think.

Tom Hoffman said...

You'll note that both matt and ewan mostly use "private" and "privacy" in their comments rather than "secret." I think "secret" has a much stronger connotation than "private," especially to kids. It isn't clear to me that most people literally think that IM or SMS are "secret," but I do think it is reasonable to say they think they are "private."

I just don't understand writing taxonomies where literally the first word is problematic. It's like reading one of David Warlick's books.