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Networked Personal Security

Following danah boyd’s post about her recently falling victim to a robbery, I got thinking about the possibility of using the networked society to solve these kinds of crimes. Then danah posted about the possibilities of capturing the perpetrators, so I decided to comment:

As much as I genuinely symphasise with you about your anger for these robbers, I question whether the “connected society” can ever act as such a formidable security measure as you suggest.

Firstly, I think you were lucky to get photographs of the perpetrators, and that stands you in good stead. But this is not going to be an option for most people who fall prey of identity theft.

Secondly, since you have a pretty high profile in blogspace and this is the first time someone high profile (at all?) has posted this kind of thing, then the novelty may well carry it to a solution (I REALLY hope it does!).

I question it because although 5.5 links should make for plenty of people to spread the word – it is not word that needs spreading – it’s images. The question is, can the images be transferred from webspace to offline space easily. And I don’t think that it’s easy enough to do. There’s the chance that people may visit your site to check out the photos, or one of the many sites that have reposted the photos, but I think this chance is a lot less than the chance of people talking to their friends about it, and spreading the word of the robbery, but not necesarily having them look at the pictures.

It may work this time, due to novelty, but I’m not so sure that this is a global solution.

Perhaps when we have a ubiquitous computing society, whereby transferring images from a webpage to a mobile device is as easy as touching the image on the screen and then pointing to your mobile device, but we’re not there yet and so the spreading of images seems inherently different (less penetrating) than the spreading of ideas. In this case, we’re spreading a link – a link back to danah’s page where the photographs are kept. This works well in cyberspace, where the link can be followed immediately. Transferring this to offline space seems to me to be an extra hurdle that I think people will be less likely to jump.

If I tell a friend at work about this robbery while I’m eating lunch in the canteen, then in order for that person to see the photographs, they will have to be interested enough to remember the story I’ve told them, remember the URL (if I tell them that at all) and then go back to their desk and go look.

What I guess I’m trying to say is that the propagation of images across the online world/offline world membrane seems to take considerable more effort than the propagation of words and ideas.

I really hope that I’m proved wrong!

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