The perils of asymmetric openness

I had an interesting conversation with Francine Hardaway yesterday about radical transparency in the context of Google Glass. What are we willing to share, when, why, and with whom? I agreed with her that being more open about as much as we can as individuals and organisations is a good thing for all concerned. Whether it is the benefits of “writing ourselves into existence” or making ourselves and our organisations more accountable it is attractive as an ideal.


All of this is only OK if everyone is as open as everyone else! Yesterday’s fuss about the NSA collecting data opened many people’s eyes to the darker aspects of our new found technological ability to share. (Worth reading Mike Arrington’s take on this). The fact that they can be collecting data about me and extrapolating meaning from it without my awareness or ability to react is the problem. Asymmetric openness just doesn’t work.

We have to do whatever we can to ensure that our systems default to open rather than closed at every opportunity. From the looks of it neither business nor governments can be trusted to do this. This is why things like Doc Searls’s personal cloud, Dave Winer’s focus on open standards, the work of the EFF and so many other attempts to keep things as open and free from commercial or ideological influence matter.

3 thoughts on “The perils of asymmetric openness

  1. As far as I can tell, it seems that Francine held the counterpoint and (if that is the case) I would have to agree with her. By saying that a system should default to open, you mean that all the data (allegedly) gleaned by the NSA should be in the public domain anyway therefore free for all to access. The sentence "Asymmetric openness just doesn’t work" can only be interpreted as "forcing everyone to be open, and be nice about it just doesn’t work". This has a very different meaning, which I don’t think was your intention. The authority to openness always and only resides with the poster, and the use/application of the posting resides with the viewer. We are open online precisely for the reason that others can view that information for their own use/interest. There is no such thing as asymmetric openness, just openness. If you leave a door open, anyone can enter. If you walk in the open anyone can see you. If you open a book anyone can read it.

    I do not understand your statement "All of this (sharing) is only OK if everyone is as open as everyone else!" There is no example of this anywhere, ever – it is just just a utopian assumption. How does ubiquitous openness protect against the surveillance as alleged against the NSA, and not exacerbate it?


    1. I obviously didn’t write my post carefully enough as Francine advocates radical transparency and I was arguing that that is impractical for all sorts of reasons. By expressing concern about asymmetric openness I was pointing out that the increased openness being experienced by the population through our use of sharing technologies will call for greater openness, and higher standards of accountability, on the part of those who govern us.


      1. Asymmetrical openness still seems a misnomer. You are meaning openness and accountability, not the radical (call it ubiquitous or symmetrical) openness, that we both agree is impractical.


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