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Gradients of privacy
As people navigate their days, they move through varying degrees of public and private life. Preferences are different from person to person and from moment to moment—some tend toward privacy and smaller groups, and others tend toward social bustle, activity, and participation in a larger community—but each person experiences a need for some level of both solitude and community.
Access to a variety of spaces where these needs can be met is a characteristic of a healthy environment. In our homes and towns, we create spaces each person can call their own and go to be alone along with shared spaces where a wide variety of groups can interact. For many people, moving between these spaces marks the shape of their daily routines as they move from private bedrooms and family spaces out into shared spaces in offices, cafes, public squares, and transportation and back again.
Maintaining boundaries and clear paths to move between these distinct places is a fundamental part of human creativity and sociability—we need a diverse array of public and private experiences to feel comfortable and feel like we can embody all parts of ourselves. We want to go out into the world to participate in conversation and co-creation, and we want to have spaces that are our own to have quality time with ourselves and our closest relationships.
The need for the full spectrum of privacy and community doesn't change when people socialize, create, and travel in online spaces. A healthy web needs the same range of thriving public squares to fully private spaces as our cities and homes.
Privacy on the web has three dimensions:
- Access can be open or restricted. A single link can be open to anyone who has the address, or it can be restricted and only accessible to an individual or limited group of people who can log in to view it.
- Traffic can be high or low. A link that isn't densely linked from other areas maintains a level of semi-privacy simply by being off the main thoroughfare of traffic, while a densely linked address is directly visible in the public square.
- Ownership can be solo, shared, or rented. A link that lives on a domain you control is a solo owned link—you alone decide how to maintain, share, or edit the data kept there. A link on a large social media platform is rented—you have some control over it, but you've also consented to give the platform control over it according to their policies. A link that is maintained by many people on a shared private domain like a wiki is shared ownership—a small group of stewards agree together on a process for making decisions about the pages.
Combinations of these dimensions provide many variations for creating spaces along the public/private spectrum to meet a wide variety of needs:
- A personal website is solo ownership, may be high or low traffic, and is generally open access to anyone with the address.
- A profile on a major social media site is rented ownership in exchange for potentially higher traffic and either open or restricted access depending on the platform and the profile preferences.
- A repository on a private online writing tool is solo data ownership, minimal traffic, and very restricted access to one person.
- A group blog on a custom domain is shared ownership, high or low traffic, and generally open access.
- A "working with the garage door open" web garden of working notes is solo ownership, low traffic, and mixed open and restricted access.
It's up to each individual to find the combination spaces that meet their needs, but the overall fabric of the web should comprise distinct areas along the full public/private spectrum and clear paths for moving between them. With clear paths, ideas explored in private and small groups can move into more public spheres as they mature, and people can find refuge from busy social spaces as they need in a natural cycle.
Each type of space has its own challenges to maintaining its boundaries. The grain of the web tends toward open access, so creating restricted access spaces requires a baseline level of security and encryption to maintain privacy. Semi-private spaces need effective controls and walls to maintain the right level of traffic and protect them from the noise and publicness of the main streets. Shared or rented ownership spaces require clear agreements on individual rights and procedures for maintenance.
A major challenge across all spaces is the danger of privacy violations. Each individual has a fundamental right to control their own privacy preferences and to be protected from harmful and deceptive invasions of their privacy. This right is essential to maintain each person's ability to choose the level of private/public balance that feels best to them, so every space should be built on a fundamental right to privacy based on consent.
By entering a public space like social media, a certain level of reduced privacy is given with consent, but on the current web both corporations and trolls regularly cross invasive privacy boundaries through tracking and other practices, either to increase revenue or to manipulate and cause harm. When these boundaries are violated, people avoid the public squares in favor of more private spaces. When this happens, the public squares no longer offer a living public life—both the social spaces and each person's life is left depleted. Our public squares are a fundamental part of the web, but they should be built on a foundation of privacy rights just like the fundamental rights guiding our physical communities.
Therefore, make a clear distinction between three types of spaces online—public (highly linked and high traffic, open access, or rented ownership), private (restricted access to one person, very low traffic, or solo ownership), and semi-private (restricted access to a small group, low traffic, or shared ownership). Create gradients of privacy across different spaces and within each space, with more public and more private areas within the same domain. Make sure each private space has a connection to a more public space, and make sure each public space has a path to more private spaces. Make sure all spaces respect the individual's right to control their own privacy preferences and move their personal data and authored information to more public or more private domains as they wish.
Use this pattern to differentiate distinct public and private spaces across the web. Shape high traffic, high density shared or rented spaces as a A domain of one's own so members have control of their privacy preferences. In all publicly accessible spaces, remember that .. In lower traffic, semi-private areas, create grouping a variety of public/private and shared/personal spaces— , , , , and . Control traffic to semi-private and private spaces with and and create paths to both more public and more private spaces using . Create closed access options with an . Within all community spaces provide
Patterns that link here
A domain of one's own
People need to be able to shape, extend, reconfigure, and repair their environment to feel truly at home within it.