Washington Law Review

Essay

Obscurity by Design

March 01, 2013 | 88 Wash.L.Rev. 385

Design-based solutions to confront technological privacy threats are becoming popular with regulators. However, these promising solutions have left the full potential of design untapped. With respect to online communication technologies, design-based solutions for privacy remain incomplete because they have yet to successfully address the trickiest aspect of the Internet—social interaction. This Article posits that privacy-protection strategies such as “Privacy by Design” face unique challenges with regard to social software and social technology due to their interactional nature.

This Article proposes that design-based solutions for social technologies benefit from increased attention to user interaction, with a focus on the principles of “obscurity” rather than the expansive and vague concept of “privacy.” The main thesis of this Article is that obscurity is the optimal protection for most online social interactions and, as such, is a natural locus for design-based privacy solutions for social technologies. To that end, this Article develops a model of “obscurity by design” as a means to address the privacy problems inherent in social technologies and the Internet.

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