February 27, 2013

Q&A with Bianca Bosker, Executive Technology Editor, The Huffington Post

Posted by: in North America

We spoke with Bianca Bosker when we were researching one of our 10 Trends for 2013, Going Private in Public: the notion that people are rebelling against a culture in which living publicly is the expectation, and coming up with ways to reclaim some privacy without giving up the benefits of social media. A graduate of Princeton University, Bosker is the executive technology editor of The Huffington Post. Her writing has also appeared in publications including The Wall Street JournalFast Company and the Far Eastern Economic Review. She has appeared on Nightline, Al Jazeera English, Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer and HuffPost Live. She talked to us about what privacy means in 2013.

In a world that values living publicly by default, where does privacy fit in?

I think it’s an interesting premise that the world values living publicly by default. I think companies value people living their lives publicly by default. Facebook and Google make a great deal of money because we live our lives publicly.

I don’t think privacy has gone away. It’s just that we’re signing up to live our lives in places that are more public. It’s easier to be public, and privacy is becoming something that we have to do much more consciously.

How would you redefine the idea of privacy for this new era? Does it have to be an all-or-nothing proposition, in which things are public and everyone can see them or they’re private and no one can see them?

Privacy is something that we’re having to more actively guard. The sliver of our lives that can be private is getting smaller and smaller. We used to be able to assume that something would be private, and you certainly can’t do that anymore. I mean, look at what happened with Petraeus. In a heartbeat, something you think is private can become very, very public. But something that’s public certainly can’t become private.

Forgetting is natural and healthy for humans to do, but it’s essentially been built out of the Internet and social networking. What are the potential downfalls of relying on a communication system that publicly documents all our missteps, heroic acts and everything else?

There’s a sense that the past is always present and that it’s really shaping our interactions in the future. That’s always been true. We’ve never automatically forgotten everything that someone says, but when you can recall a conversation word for word, it becomes much harder to put aside the past. Now not only are we recording things in great detail, but we can recall them instantly. You don’t have to dig through a shoebox anymore. We can constantly see each other through the lens of our earlier actions and words.

We’re recording everything everyone says, but we’re not at a point yet where as a society we’re able to forgive someone for misspeaking. We all misspeak all the time. I think it will be interesting to see whether we collectively become more forgiving of each other’s mistakes.

The other potential outcome of this ever-remembering web is that we become more closed off and reticent about what we share. I know people who have left Facebook, or haven’t joined social networks specifically because they know that chances are good they’re going to say something dumb, and they don’t want it to be out there for everyone to see.

There’s a good side to it too, in the sense that having more data about what we do can make us better. Being able to look back at your emails to see that you canceled on someone nine times out of ten could have a good effect on your behavior.

There’s some danger in completely opting out of social networks, because people could still share anything they want about you and then you’re not there to reclaim your reputation. Have you seen ways that people are trying to mitigate this dilemma?

I certainly know a good number of people who have joined Facebook, have profiles, but don’t really touch them. Privacy is no longer something that you control for yourself. It’s increasingly something that anyone in your social network can put in peril. And how are people dealing with it? Well, part of how you deal with it is being really explicit and obnoxious about your boundaries. I mean, I’ve had people check in on Foursquare at my apartment and I’ve had to actively ask them not to do that.

Do you think people will start to codify a new privacy etiquette for the 21st century?

Yes, for sure. Social networks in some ways are no different from offline social situations. Facebook has everyone, so it’s closer to the school cafeteria or the living room with your parents than to the basement of a friend’s house when no one is there. And people behave very differently in those situations. We’ve had new rules of decorum that are cropping up, and there are certain elements of peer pressure that make people act correctly.

You also get to a point where, when something is transparently public like Twitter or Instagram, you get sharing that is very G-rated. People want to be sure that it doesn’t offend, it doesn’t embarrass and it won’t come back to haunt them. The number and quality of posts on my Facebook wall has plummeted since I was in college. When I graduated in 2008, Facebook was still mostly college friends, and there was a sense that you could post something a little risqué. But now with everyone having their bosses as friends, those conversations go back into a much more private one-to-one sphere. It’s also been a long time since I’ve been tagged in a photo. People have taken a lot of sharing that they used to do on social networks and moved it into back channels like Dropbox or via email.

What about the invasive ways companies are going so far into potential employees’ social media lives?

I think it will be really interesting to see what happens when this generation that’s grown up with social media is running for president or hiring each other as CEOs. Are they going to be more forgiving of an incriminating Facebook past? If you grew up on Facebook and you know how many awful photos you have of you drinking under 21, are you going to be more lenient toward other people? I can’t wait for our first real Facebook president who is going to have all these awful photos haunting them.

Have you heard of examples of people hacking the system?

There’s a real tension between wanting to partake in social media in some way but exercise control over it. That’s hard to do. I don’t think anyone has the perfect social media experience where they feel like they can be involved but also feel comfortable that nothing bad is going to happen to them.

I’ve heard of people creating multiple Facebook accounts. It’s become more common for people to preemptively ask each other not to tag them or not to share anything on Instagram. I’ve seen people creating fake Facebook names or Twitter accounts that are very generic and then not telling people about them. And then there are new apps like Snapchat, Wickr and BurnNote that let people send photos or messages that self-destruct.

What else are people doing to preserve some privacy?

Google Alerts are one way of seeing what people are saying about you. You can track your mentions on Twitter and set up Facebook so that you’re notified every time someone tries to tag you.

The other thing I like on Facebook is that you can control how your profile appears to different people. I accept friend requests from a lot of people, and I let them see a profile that’s very tightly controlled, so we’re still friends, and I’ve appeared friendly, but they don’t have full access to all my photos and posts. So in that way I think it’s possible to find a balance between social niceties and some real privacy.

But Facebook could undo that.

You’re right. We’ve learned a lesson that what we think is private can very quickly become public. The information that we think we’ve very carefully controlled isn’t totally in our control. We’ve seen enough changes to Facebook and Google’s privacy settings that people are more wary of what they share in the first place. We’re learning that private doesn’t always mean private, and to take that with a grain of salt.

What should brands do to help either navigate or mitigate our privacy dilemma?

That’s a good question. It’s been interesting to watch companies try to use privacy as a marketing point. Microsoft tries to create a lot of noise anytime there’s an issue with Google, and markets itself as a more private alternative.

But more broadly for brands, it’s tough because they need a lot of data, and that very often is at odds with privacy. People are sort of freaked out when they see an ad that’s a little too similar to them. But on the other hand, I think people are largely still not very aware of just how much companies already know about them and how much they’re targeting them.

I think the conversation about privacy really involves relationships. Broadcasting information to everyone can’t be confused with feeling close to everyone, even though we might be telling total strangers intimate details once reserved only for best friends. But just because I’m telling you something I might once have only told my best friend doesn’t mean I’m okay with you talking to me like I’m your best friend. That’s important for brands because, sure, you might know a good deal about me because I’m very public about something on Twitter and Facebook, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with you. There’s a danger of presuming that you’re too buddy-buddy with someone.

Something else I’ve read is that transparency is great for companies but maybe not for people.

That’s a good way of putting it. Brands increasingly want to have a lot of conversations with us online. There’s a real tension, where Facebook tells brands that they can be our friends, but I don’t think a brand can be my friend. It’s a company, it’s a product, and I might use it, and I might like it, but I’m not particularly interested in its backstory. Nor do I want to tell it my deepest, darkest secrets.

And any birthday wish it might send is completely contrived because it’s a brand.

Right. Another interesting part about privacy is to what extent the stuff we’re sharing is actually intimate, and to what extent we’re all just selling to each other. Given that we know that our information lasts forever, it can be used against us, it can make us lose our job, are we sharing things that are really personal, or are we just sharing the things that we want to advertise about ourselves? We’re in this place where we’re all pitching each other on our best sells, or we’re just updating with the great articles we’ve written or the beautiful pictures of our wedding where we look our very, very best.

Any parting thoughts?

I think a lot of people assume that teens don’t care at all about privacy, but I think that they’re a lot savvier than people give them credit for. Young people get labeled as the oversharing generation, but they understand the implications of sharing information. That doesn’t mean they always get it right, but I think they’re aware of the benefits of social media, but absolutely aware of the risk of sharing too much and making use of the tools available to protect their privacy. They are defriending people. They are asking people to take down photos of them. They’re moving conversations off of mainstream sites into nooks and crannies of the Web where they might have more anonymity. Adults shouldn’t confuse their own confusion with social media with a sense that teens don’t care at all about boundaries or privacy.

No Responses to "Q&A with Bianca Bosker, Executive Technology Editor, The Huffington Post"

Comment Form

SIGN UP FOR OUR WEEKLY EMAIL NEWSLETTER:

New Trend Report: The Future of Payments & Currency

2014 iPad App

JWT AnxietyIndex

Things to Watch

  • Xiaomi zooms ahead
    October 30, 2014 | 4:44 pm

    Xiaomi, which we included on our 100 Things to Watch in 2014 list, is now the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, according to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. The young company has seen triple-digit year-over-year growth in smartphone shipments, per IDC, surging ahead of both LG and Lenovo. Often described as the “Apple of China,” Xiaomi released its first phone just three years ago; its latest, Mi4, is an iPhone clone that runs on a modified version of Android.

    The company is expanding beyond China into India and Singapore, and planning to enter a slew of other growth markets, including Russia, Turkey, Brazil and Mexico. For more on whether Chinese brands can succeed on the world stage, see our report Remaking “Made in China.”Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Xiaomi

     

  • Money & messaging apps
    October 23, 2014 | 11:13 am

    LINE_icon02

    Given the primary function of mobile messaging apps and their technical capabilities, money transfer and payments are an alluring proposition, as outlined in our new report on payments and currency. Snapchat filed two trademarks in July that indicate a potential move into peer-to-peer payments. The recently announced Line Pay will let Line users make purchases through their Line accounts, send funds to each other, and split costs using a “Dutch Pay” feature. Line Pay will launch in Japan and, as Tech in Asia reports, serve as “an entrance to new industries” thanks to integration with the new Line Taxi service and Line Wow, for food delivery. In South Korea, KakaoTalk launched the PayPal-like Kakao Pay in September, and a remittance service, Bank Wallet Kakao, is in the works. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Line

  • The #TimsDark Experiment
    October 14, 2014 | 3:46 pm

    To entice customers into tasting its new dark roast, Canadian fast food chain Tim Hortons, with the help of JWT Canada, created a surprise immersive experience. A store in Quebec was wrapped in material that blocked all light from the outdoors. Patrons entered warily and, once inside, heard a staff member (who was wearing night vision goggles) guiding them through the dark. At the counter, customers were handed a cup of the dark roast—the brand’s first new blend in 50 years—with the darkness heightening their sense of taste. When the lights came on, the patrons saw they were on camera.

    The #TimsDark Experiment has garnered YouTube views and some press attention, and shows how creatively imagined immersive experiences—one of our 10 Trends for 2014—can encourage consumers to engage with a brand.

  • Bitcoin bank Circle
    October 7, 2014 | 4:40 pm

    Circle

    In late September, the startup Circle launched a web app that effectively functions as a bitcoin bank. Using a debit card or bank account, users transfer funds to Circle, which converts the money to bitcoin at no fee. Circle also insures this money at no cost. The company aims to make bitcoin more accessible via consumer-friendly design and is aiming to take on traditional banks and companies like PayPal, as The Guardian reports. Next up: Android and iOS Circle apps.

    Circle co-founder Jeremy Allaire gave a keynote at the Inside Bitcoins conference in April, citing the need for a “killer app” to bring bitcoin into the mainstream. Now Circle seems to be taking the lead, and others are sure to follow. —Nick Ayala

    Image credit: Circle

  • High-tech tasting
    October 2, 2014 | 6:00 pm

    Nanosensor

    Thailand got a lot of buzz this week with an innovative idea: a taste-tester robot, or electronic tongue, that’s programmed to distinguish authentic Thai dishes from wanna-be’s. Artificial tongues aren’t new but have been evolving. Most recently, Danish researchers developed a nanosensor that mimics “what happens in your mouth when you drink wine,” enabling winemakers to control astringency very early on. In Spain, researchers created a beer-tasting robot that can distinguish between varieties of brew.

    Meanwhile, advanced technology can also create recipes: IBM has touted how Watson, its “cognitive computing system,” can analyze the components of ingredients to come up with novel ideas for dishes; find a few of them here. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Aarhus Universitet

  • Marriage gets marginalized
    September 25, 2014 | 5:00 pm

    One of our 10 Trends for 2012 was Marriage Optional: More people around the world are living together or remaining solo instead of marrying. Pew reports this week that 1 in 5 Americans age 25 and up have never married, a fundamental shift since 1960, when only about 1 in 10 could say the same. Millennials are especially ambivalent: Two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed by Pew agree that “society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children” vs. 53 percent of the next generation up (age 30 to 49).

    Europe is seeing a similar move away from marriage, driven by “austerity, generational crisis and apathy towards the institution,” notes The Guardian. It says weddings are at historical lows in some nations; last year Italy recorded the fewest since World War I. For a look at how changing marriage patterns are affecting families, see our report Meet the New Family. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: JD Hancock

     

  • Room-sharing service Breather
    September 16, 2014 | 3:30 pm

    Breather

    Described as the “Zipcar for rooms,” Breather is an app that enables access to “beautiful, practical spaces” that can be rented anywhere from 30 minutes to a whole day. While sharing-economy players like LiquidSpace and PivotDesk offer work and meeting spaces, Breather positions its rooms as homey spots that can serve a range of purposes (though not, the founder assures, seedy ones). Rooms include the basics—a desk, a couch, Wi-Fi—as well as some fun touches like a candy jar. Lockitron technology lets users unlock doors with their mobile phones. Breather is available in New York, Montreal and San Francisco, and recently raised $6.5 million in venture capital, citing plans to “own every major market in America.” —Hallie Steiner

    Image credit: Breather

  • Barco Escape’s immersive screens
    September 11, 2014 | 4:15 pm

    Maze Runner

    Escape is a triple-screen system from Barco that “allows you to truly be in the movies, not just at the movies”—in line with the rise of immersive experiences, one of our 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond. Audiences at five U.S. locations and one Belgian cinema will get their first taste of the concept with next week’s release of The Maze Runner, about a group of teens trapped in a massive maze, which will feature about five minutes of immersive footage at key moments. ScreenX is among the other multi-screen, multi-projection cinema experiences we’ve highlighted. —Aaron Baar

    Image credit: Maze Runner

  • “Smart” personal safety
    September 2, 2014 | 6:01 pm

    Defender

    Earlier this year we wrote about the Guardian Angel, a pendant that alerts emergency contacts whenever wearers feel unsafe, created by JWT Singapore. Smart technology is addressing personal safety in other ways too. The Defender is a smart pepper spray that works in tandem with a mobile app, taking a picture of an attacker while contacting authorities. It’s in the final week of an Indiegogo campaign that has well exceeded its goal. Similarly, First Sign has crowdfunded a smart hairclip that detects physical assault, records the evidence and sends for help.

    Meanwhile, college campuses are embracing a more basic form of this tech, encouraging students to download apps like Rave Guardian and Circle of 6, which enable a chosen network to monitor a student’s GPS location during a night out. In a different vein, students at North Carolina State University made headlines last week for their Undercover Nail Polish, which changes color in the presence of “date rape drugs.” —Allison Kruk

    Image credit: The Defender

  • Nestlé’s animal-welfare standards
    August 28, 2014 | 10:00 am

    Nestle

    We wrote about rising concerns over treatment of the animals that people eat back in 2012 as brands including Burger King, McDonald’s and Hellmann’s pledged to institute more humane practices. We also included Humane Food among our Things to Watch for 2013. The trend recently picked up more steam with Nestlé’s announcement of animal welfare standards for its suppliers worldwide, following an investigation by the group Mercy for Animals.

    “The move is one of the broadest-reaching commitments to improving the quality of life for animals in the food system,” notes The New York Times, “and it is likely to have an impact on other companies that either share the same suppliers or compete with Nestlé.” Observed the influential blogger Food Babe: “People want to know where their food comes from, and in order to survive the next decade, the food industry will have to change.” —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Nestlé

  • RSSArchive for Things to Watch »