Don Marti

Sun 29 Aug 2010 01:32:21 PM PDT

Framing discussions of web privacy

That big Wall Street Journal series on web privacy has kicked off a lot of discussion, but it's a little weird to see how people are framing it. Most of the discussion makes the server side into the subject of the sentence. " puts tracking software on your computer!"

I suppose the fact that it looks like that is a testimonial for the seamlessness of how it all works. But when you actually turn on Firebug and watch what's happening, the situation looks completely different. It isn't " is collecting information," but more like, "Web sites are asking your browser to send your information to"

One of the things that makes the web better than closed client/closed server is that ☞ the browser doesn't have to do what the server tells it to. ☜ Likewise, if you own a router or NAT device between your computer and a web site, your device is allowed to drop or modify packets. It's your device and your net connection.

I'm going to apply a lesson from Doc Searls here and think about how we use language to talk about a situation. If we frame the problem right, we have better mental tools to talk about solutions.

So let's stop making the destination of the information into the subject of the sentence. At the Internet level, the companies that collect private data are just a bunch of servers. Servers respond to requests that clients send. Describing the transaction by making the server side into the subject is like saying, "that bookcase keeps giving me Charles Stross books." Most users don't control what the browser sends out, bit for bit, but users do pick browsers based on features. (Remember how quickly all the browsers added blocking for pop-ups and pop-unders?)

Instead of " collects information" let's make it "users send information." Connect the action verb to the originator of the action, and people can take the next step: if I'm doing that, why, and how do I stop?