The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

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Sharing Is Caring - Or Is it?

In It's Complicated, author danah boyd writes "In a world in which posting updates is common, purposeful, and performative, sharing often allows teens to control a social situation more than simply opting out. It also guarantees that others can’t
define the social situation" (boyd 75). boyd points out that by sharing small snippets of one's life, they can effectively partition off a section of their life to remain private. I never realized this as an alternative to simply opting out of social media, and this solution proves much more useful than staying off the internet.

boyd shares a situation in which a teen girl posted embarrassing photos of herself on her profile. When questioned, the girl pointed out that it was far safer that the photos be posted on her own terms. Since her friends also possessed embarrassing photos, posting them before they had a chance "undermined her friends' ability to define the situation differently" (boyd 75). Not only could she avoid being publicly embarrassed, this gave her an extensive amount of privacy. "Her apparent exhibitionism left plenty of room for people to not focus in on the things that were deeply intimate in her life" (boyd 75).

boyd also draws a comparison to the practice of steganography. By hiding messages in plain sight through "countless linguistic and cultural tools," (boyd 66) teens can avoid surveillance by their parents. This "social steganography" also relates to the previous situation, in regards to the girl posting her photos online. By putting them out there, she draws attention away from her actual personal life, essentially hiding it in plain sight under the veil of her photos.

Overall, boyd notes that "where people share to maintain privacy, they do because they do not want someone to have power over them" (boyd 75). By selectively choosing what to share, people can form pictures of their life that appear true, but actually only define a small portion of their life. This allows people to maintain their privacy in an ever increasingly invasive society. Although I've always desired privacy, I never thought of it concretely as maintaining power over myself. boyd has essentially redefined privacy in a meaningful way that truly captures its essence in today's world.

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Old Man Yells at Cloud

"In her New York Magazine article describing people’s willingness to express themselves publicly, Emily Nussbaum articulated a concern about youth that is widespread: “Kids today. They have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy. They are show-offs, fame whores, pornographic little loons who post their diaries, their phone numbers, their stupid poetry—for God’s sake, their dirty photos!—online.”" (pg. 55-56)

As it happens with every generation to the next, adults are constantly criticizing the younger generations and rejecting the advancements that come with them. Popular culture is constantly demonized in a way that can redistribute the blame for modern problems in our society - whether or not they are actually authentic. Regardless of why this is, perhaps because of a reluctance to change and to technology, or because of greater political implications, this attitude will always have real consequences in the ways youth navigate their daily lives. The privacy of teenagers is chronically under an inspective microscope while teenagers are simultaneously under fire for "not respecting privacy": a little hypocritical, isn't it? As the author discusses further into the chapter, what is shared on social media is selectively chosen by the user. And as intuitive as this concept should already be, it seems that people expect "privacy" to be a strict definition and expression for every individual. The value my privacy is not what someone else deems it to be, it is what I deem it to be. What I choose not to share with others - that is my "private" life. And because social media is a powerful medium for teenagers to choose who understands what, who reads what, who sees what, they are able to comfortably navigate the perhaps intricate stratification that exists within the very idea of privacy.

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Semantics, Semantics

In It’s Complicated, by danah boyd, the author remarks that “Journalists, parents, and technologists seem to believe that a willingness to share in public spaces—and, most certainly, any act of exhibitionism and publicity—is incompatible with a desire for privacy” (56). This observation comes in the middle of a discussion about social media and the complicated boundaries of online spaces. Is social media participation an automatic abandonment of all privacy? And to what extent should information be regarded as private when in these spaces?

In my opinion, just because people decide to use social media does not mean they are forfeiting their privacy. However, the issue lies mostly in the perception of what “privacy” is, and the disparities between the beliefs of adults and youth. Those who grew up without Facebook or Twitter may think that because the general public is able to access that information whenever they want, that information is not private.

However, except for in the cases of celebrities or wildly popular teenagers, many people do not have that many friends or followers. This means that what they share, they choose to share with the relatively small community of people they have built in that online space, and any unwelcome intrusions from those who feel their information is public is just that: unwanted and resented. In the specific case of boyd’s book, this may be teenagers trying to keep what autonomy they can online. But in the eyes of their parents, because they can see the information, they feel entitled to invade their children’s privacy.

A New Perspective on Privacy

“Instead of signaling the end of privacy as we know it, teens’ engagement with social media highlights the complex interplay between privacy and publicity in the networked world we all live in now.” (boyd, 57)

Growing up in a world full of social media, I’ve become used to the idea of a thousand of my “friends” on Facebook seeing every photo I post. However, whenever I add a new picture or update my status, the vast number of people seeing what I have decided to publish is one of the last thoughts on my mind. I believe that social media has somewhat numbed me to the effects of what I post as the access to my information is instantly shared with those following me on social media, thus giving them complete freedom to use this knowledge however they like.

In boyd’s book It’s Complicated, she addresses the relationship between privacy and social media as teens today continue to make more and more aspects of their lives public. While past generations often lived in complete privacy, teens have become used to sharing most of their lives with the world.

But even though fewer aspects of our lives remain private, this does not mean that the concept of privacy has disappeared altogether. Instead, I believe that what we truly wish to remain private often does, as teens understand the drastic consequences social media often brings. Once a photo or text is shared, the sender automatically surrenders its privacy. Because social media gives people the access to publicize everything at their disposal, teens have therefore adjusted to a new perspective of privacy in which it is often only their most valued information that remains completely confidential.

The Need for Privacy Creates a Facade

In It's Complicated, author danah boyd says, "Issues emerge when teens start to deceive in order to keep the truth private.  But by and large, when teens share to create a sense of privacy, they are simply asserting agency in a social context in which their power is regularly undermined.  The most common way that this unfolds is when teens systematically exclude certain information from what is otherwise a rich story" (75).  Boyd explains that to maintain a certain level of privacy, some teens feel the need to share snippets of their lives on social media, in order to evade questions from their friends.  However, this pressure to share often leads teens hide other, darker parts of their lives.

boyd uses the example of lesbian, gay, or transgender teens who create online profiles that make them appear straight or abused teens who share "extravagant stories" to hide the truth of what is really going on at home.  I was deeply affected by this passage because of an event that occurred last January.  A female distance runner, a girl I had known from high school, committed suicide.  She had been attending the University of Pennsylvania and was a member of the cross country and track teams.  After her death, discussion surrounding her use of social media to hide her pain spread.  Her Instagram account featured photos of her with teammates, smiling and having fun.  Her final post, which was posted just an hour before her death, was a picture of christmas lights in a park.  These photos created an image of a happy college-girl.  Based on her social media posts, one would never be aware of the struggles that she was facing.

The culture surrounding social media in modern day society is one of controversy.  Adults argue that teens are sharing too much, while teens, on the contrary, limit what they post with the hopes of maintaining privacy.  The desire to have privacy leads teens to create a false online persona, skewing the image of their reality.  Sharing the best aspects of one's life has become a social norm.  The pressure to share simultaneously generates the pressure to hide.

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Snooping- Socially Acceptable?

“When I opened up the issue of teachers looking at students’ Facebook profiles with fifteen-year-old Chantelle, she responded dismissively: “Why are they on my page? I wouldn’t go to my teacher’s page and look at their stuff, so why should they go on mine to look at my stuff?” She continued on to make it clear that she had nothing to hide while also reiterating the feeling that snooping teachers violated her sense of privacy. The issue for Chantelle—and many other teens—is more a matter of social norms and etiquette than technical access” (boyd, 58). This passage, taken from the book It’s Complicated, by danah boyd, describes an opinion common of many people of all ages- even if one has nothing to hide, privacy is still valued.

The idea that knowing that you’re being snooped on can make you feel like your privacy is being violated, even if you have absolutely nothing to hide, is a fundamental argument in the discussion of privacy matters, especially in modern society. This concept can be related to data mining, as it can be uncomfortable knowing that your data is being mined, even if you have done nothing wrong. Just because someone has nothing to hide does not mean that they will or should relinquish their privacy. Data mining focuses a lot on the ethics of the practice; this passage focused more on the social norms aspect of snooping.

I found it interesting how this passage introduced this idea of privacy invasion as a matter of social norms and etiquette. Even though information on the Internet may be easily accessible to the masses, it does not make it socially acceptable for others to search for and view this information. But do people actually take etiquette into consideration when they are inclined to snoop? In some respects, these social standards should reduce the amount of snooping that occurs. However, even though it may not be socially encouraged to conduct this type of intrusive behavior, it is still very prevalent. I think that social norms do not stop people from snooping, although they may promote the practice of private snooping: keeping the information that one finds to him or herself, in order to keep the fact that he or she was snooping private. The Internet is saturated with personal blogs, profiles, photos, etc.- does that make it acceptable for strangers to view this information and use it how they please?

Teen Privacy

In It’s Complicated, Emily Nussbaum states “Kids today…have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy” (boyd 55). She continues with a series of eloquent terms that describe how the “kids” publicly defame themselves with indecent pictures, and how they are “little loons who post…their stupid poetry” and thoughts “online” (boyd 55).


In today’s complicated world of electronics, it is reasonable to see how many Internet users might not know how exactly the security on their computer functions. For example, users might feel safe uploading private information to the worldwide web because they believe their social media accounts to simply be protected by a mere password, unaware of the versatility of hackers to penetrate such protection. This sense of privacy within a security system may be the result of the user’s lack of knowledge, and subsequently may be a reason to why so many “kids” are prone to upload personal data online undeterred.


In the sense of social privacy, however, we see “kids” who are ignorant or apathetic to disclosing personal data to the public. This lack of responsibility in maintaining one’s privacy is what Emily believes to be troublesome. Yet, when posting pictures and videos of themselves, kids do carry around “a sense of shame” in selecting only photos they deem worthy to be presented to the public. While this may indicate a separate problem with their self-image, it is a counterargument for Emily’s aforementioned statement—kids do carry a sense of shame, just not the one adults typically have in mind. This leads to boyd’s point that there are teens that genuinely care about a different sense of privacy, one that involves escaping the surveillance of “paternalistic adults” (boyd 56).

Blog Assignment #8

Ghost WriterFor your next blog assignment, write a post between 200 and 400 words in which you first quote, then react to a statement (a sentence or two) in Chapter 2 of danah boyd's book It's Complicated that caught your attention.  You might address how the statement affects your understanding of privacy, connections you see between the statement and other ideas we've discussed this semester, or your own opinions on the statement.

Please (1) give your post a descriptive title, (2) assign it to the "Student Posts" category, and (3) give it at least three useful tags. Your post is due by 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, November 11th.

Note: If you'd rather leave a 200-400 word response on a peer's post than start your own post, that's fine!

Math Exam Review Guide

Here's Version 1 of your math exam review guide: Math Exam Study Guide [PDF]. I need to add a few things to it (including answers to the practice problems), which I'll do when I'm back from my conference. But this gives you something to study from for now.

Update: Here's Version 2 of the math exam review guide: Math Exam Study Guide (v2) [PDF]. It features a few more practice problems, but still no answers to practice problems. Those will be available in Version 3.

Update: And here's Version 3, now featuring solutions to practice problems: Math Exam Study Guide (3) [PDF]. Note that I swapped out Question 13, which had previously appeared on one of your problem sets.

Problem Set #5

Here's your fifth and final problem set, now updated with an eight problem! Problem Set 5 [Word], Problem Set 5 [PDF]. It's due at the start of class on Monday, November 13th.

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