It's Not Paranoia if Your Tech Really Is Out To Get You!


Gdoc of presentation slides

Your tech is out to get you, in a lot of different ways - but you can mitigate the pain if you think critically before you adopt a new technology, and as you continue to use it!
Some questions that I think are worth thinking critically about:
  • What are you going to do when your new tech breaks? When it changes? When it ceases to exist?
    It's going to happen.
    Appropriate paranoia:
      • Plan for failure
        • Keep your options open
        • Backup your backups
      • Take it personally
        • Own your own tech
  • How will you handle the unexpected?
    Unexpected behaviors on the part of the technology - and unexpected uses by people.
    Appropriate paranoia:
    • Look with fresh eyes - repeatedly

But the really key point is:

  • What are you getting? What are you giving up?
    Quality, preservation, access, accessibility, portability, convenience, environmental impact, social impacts...
    Appropriate paranoia:
    • Consider what you're purchasing... with what currency?
    • Be suspicious of free
      • If you're not paying for it, you're the product.
    • What are you getting out of the deal?
    • Read the terms of service. No, really, read the terms of service. No, no - really. READ THE TERMS OF SERVICE.

Related important questions and considerations

  • Your choices have major impacts on people other than you
    • Are you sharing info about other people? Are they okay with that?
    • Assume everything you post online is public.
  • Cost-benefit analyses should include non-monetary measures
    • Think long-term
    • Think about social/societal impacts
    • When you're done thinking about that, think about it all again, trying to put yourself in the shoes of PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT LIKE YOU.
  • Privacy is a social phenomenon
    • Individuals have social contexts - and they do matter
    • Technology often ignores them
    • When technology enables context-separations, it often only does so on some levels
    • Context-sensitivity is probably most important for people who have less social power, or who are in crisis or who have faced them in the past
      • But that's not who's making decisions about this
  • Every single one of these concerns is more important as a technology becomes the dominant, or even more so, the only option.

If you are not sometimes choosing not to use a new tech, you are not thinking critically enough.


"Just don't use it, then" is an insufficient response.

Badly organized and a little out of date links:

Anything danah boyd has ever written (
“Why Parents Help Their Children Lie to Facebook About Age: Unintended Consequences of the ‘Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act’” by danah boyd, Eszter Hargittai, Jason Schultz, and John Palfrey, First Monday.

Why 'Anonymous' Data Sometimes Isn't -
Robust De-anonymization of Large Sparse Datasets -