Erosion of Youth Privacy – The Local Panopticon

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by: danah boyd

For those who read my quote in the SF Chronicle today, i want to clarify it a bit as i think privacy and the next generation is a critical issue.

I am quoted as having said:

"Teens today grow up in a state of constant surveillance where there is no privacy," said Danah Boyd, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley's School of Information, who studies youth culture and online communities. "So they can't really have an idea of it being lost. The risk of the government or a corporation coming in and looking at their MySpace site is beyond their consideration."

This is accurate, but it's missing the context that makes it meaningful and useful to people concerned with privacy. Teens are growing up in a constant state of surveillance because parents, teachers, school administrators and others who hold direct power over youth are surveilling them. Governments and corporations are beyond their consideration because the people who directly affect their lives have created a more encompassing panopticon than any external structure could ever do. The personal panopticon they live in (managed by people they know and see daily) is far more menacing, far more direct, far more traumatic. As a result, youth are pretty blase about their privacy in relation to government and corporate. Cuz realistically, in comparison to parents/teachers, what can they do?

Privacy folks should be worried about where privacy is going with the next generation, but the erosion is happening on the home front, not on the corporate/governmental level. Unless we figure out how to give youth privacy in their personal lives, they are not going to expect privacy in their public lives.

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