Stephen Baker

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Rangaswami on sharing and privacy

March 3, 2010General

If you have a couple minutes, this post by JP Rangaswami makes provocative points about sharing and privacy. These are issues, and values, that are undergoing a metamorphosis in the networked age. The conclusions we come to will affect not just businesses like Facebook or Google, but also the lives we lead.

Every time we share a secret, we carry out a quiet risk/reward calculation. We take into account the discretion of the people we're communicating with and the people they might blab to, and we project the pay-off from having them in the know. Sometimes the pay-off is the unburdening of something we've been holding in. Other times, it's the naughty pleasure that comes from trafficking in inside dope. And then there are the secrets told strategically in the hopes of receiving one in return. Sharing secrets is a step toward establishing deeper ties.

So what happens when we share our secrets with the whole world? That's what Rangaswami grapples with. In one section, he contrasts two types of relationships, contracts and covenants.

In a contract relationship, it’s all about privacy. The contract sets out separate recourse in the event of breach. The two parties in a contract are inherently separate. As against this, in a covenant relationship, it’s all about sharing. The covenant sets out what the people in the covenant do together when things go wrong. As I’ve said before, in a contract you answer the question “Who pays?”; in a covenant you answer the question “How do we fix this?”

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