Unhelpful

shoebanging.pngLauren Weinstein posts about being accused of being unhelpful.

But a message from another privacy personality was as polite as it was disturbing.

The sender noted pretty much essential agreement with my arguments regarding the lawsuit, but strongly asserted that my post was “most unhelpful” by “undermining” efforts to bring Google into advocacy group consultations.

Solidarity has it’s function, and for many groups it is their most substantive source of power.  When opposing such groups divide and conquer can be a particularly effective strategy.
Lauren counters with a few of the standard counter points.

For example he labeling the shunning as “ad hominem attacks.”  One of the puzzles of group dynamics is how solidarity is maintained.  How does the group signals to a participant that he’s out of bounds?  How does it even negotiate the consensus about it?  There are always boundary keepers that will volunteer to do this function, and it seems they often over shoot.  The phrase party disciplinarian comes to mind.  No doubt the most vitriolic of the reactions he got were offensive attacks on his person rather than the topic under discussion.  When the full bore shunning takes place, the triggering issues fall by the way side.

My point here isn’t to dig into the issue.  My interest is in the group dynamics.

In the internet identity design space the group dynamics is what interests me most.  The ebb and flow of each group’s positions.    One of these groups is the loose collective of folks who I think self identify as Privacy Advocates.  Lauren is  a founder of that group.  That he has triggered their immune system makes this an interesting case study.
Lauren points out the Google, the other party in this particular dispute, is a group too; like Soylent Green it’s made up of people.  Of course Google is not a group of people in anything like the sense that the Privacy Advocates are.  While there some weak status and hence hierarchy in the PA community it is primarilly an open system from the get go.  They are a loose collective of reasonably like minded folks.  No doubt that movement could use a bit more organizational muscle, but as rebels against power it’s a tough sell.
Google, on the other hand, is a corporation – the entire design pattern of corporation runs contrary to open systems.  Presumably it struggles against that tendency, but the defaults are what they are.  Just to take one particularly small example, Google Apps reveals the email of any user who signs up for an application to the application vendor – it’s a choice, and they had to make a choice.  Their scale (their power) means that choice point is highly leveraged.

Scale, as usual for me, is the interesting part.  The Internet Identity standards battle is one of the few standards wars that deserves the nearly full blown military metaphor.  Armies, some of these groups are best treated as armies. The landscape under dispute is extremely valuable and some groups on the field are entirely focused on winning an owning that real estate.

That’s a polarizing framing, eh?  Groups, like the privacy advocates, who’s power, solidarity, is grounded in being rebels against these powerful, often mindless, armies are likely to view chatting with the enemy as traitorous.  It’s ironic though.  Lauren in making the argument that the other guys are made up of people is in fact appealing to a core value of the privacy advocates, e.g. that the individuals trump the group when making any design choice in this space.

One of the puzzles in this standards space is how hard it is to negotiate with any of these groups.  Most of them are not able to cough up a representative with whom you can negotiate.  The privacy advocates are the worst case of that.  There are dozens of people in that group with stature; but if you expend a few man months of effort negotiating with one of the his agreement doesn’t buy you the assent of the larger collective.  The privacy advocates aren’t organized in a manner that delivers a throat through which they can speak.  While I think that’s a good thing it makes the standards bodies prefer to ignore them.

But the other groups are just as awful.  Some of these are rent seeking.  Some of fear for their existence.  Some of them are playing property rights games.  Some of them send diplomats to the negotiation with false authority, since their senior management is uninterested in this standard’s battle.

To me it is a key point that the negotiations, and the battle, is between these groups.  Oh sure, there is an dialog between individuals that is critically important – since that’s were the design that actually works will be discovered.  Understanding the nature, culture, and motivations of these groups is the key.    In each of these groups there are a few people who are coming to see that they must work on the problem at this level.

For those people the hardest part is negotiating with their own people.

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