What is public?


Policy makers and regulators are the only remaining group that could significantly affect the definition of what’s “public”.

…understanding exactly what “public” means is the only way to protect the public’s interest.

I think we already know what is public and what isn’t.
Yes, if I say something in a public space, its technically public. But that I may overhear two people talking is quite different from taping microphones to every park bench, street corner and fire hydrant in the public space.

The fact that the public space is public should mean that it is shared, and actually going around and taking advantage of it for personal gain is a sort of abuse.

Actually using this public space for profit, in the real world, requires permits.

Talking about “redefining” public, and how it can be used is really a handwave. Maybe we should be talking about rules for monetizing public discourse instead. Except that it doesn’t make much sense when you put it that way, does it?

Why don’t movie studios put mics outside movie theaters to capture what people say about their movies and use them in marketing?

Why is it that everything you write in twitter becomes a datapoint for someone else to exploit?

I would argue that for this to happen, we need to have already agreed that the internet is not really a public space, its actually a private space where your participation allows the owner of said space to profit.


Twitter is an interesting case, as it’s a medium that is very public. Yet people sometimes use it as if it were a private text messaging system, for example, to remind their husband to pick up dog food on the way home.

Never before in the history of the world has the ability to spread a message so far and wide, so fast, been available. It’s a scary ability, because any mistakes are also instantly sent around the world, into the beaks of waiting vultures.

I don’t use twitter for this reason, among others.

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The author is mistaken about laws on privacy regarding recording from a public place into a private place:

A stranger could park a drone with a webcam outside your window and live-stream video footage from inside your house to the world, complete with sound. In fact, it’s probably not illegal. The view from the street is public.

In most places - even prior to drones, and r.c. cameras - any recording from an exterior location to an interior location of expected privacy was already illegal. Cal Penal Code 647 Sec. J (1) covers it in California.

(j) (1) Any person who looks through a hole or opening, into, or otherwise views, by means of any instrumentality, including, but not limited to, a periscope, telescope, binoculars, camera, motion picture camera, camcorder, or mobile phone, the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, fitting room, dressing room, or tanning booth, or the interior of any other area in which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of a person or persons inside. This subdivision shall not apply to those areas of a private business used to count currency or other negotiable instruments.

This type of law is common, and was put into place with the advent of low cost video security. So, the author isn’t even really clear on what is “private”. There are a lot of laws in place to protect privacy, but public arenas are just that - public. One problem people frequently have is that they get into private situations on the internet because they access it from their home (a private place) and forget that they have effectively entered a public location.


With social media, treating everything as public is the only safe harbor.

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