Privicons.org

Don't print icon Delete after icon Keep internal icon Please share icon Keep secret
Everyone has a horror story about email. Maybe it was when you replied-to-all instead of reply-to. Maybe it happened you reflexively forwarded an email without realizing the message contained a crass remark further down. Or maybe when you saw your own sensitive email left out on a public printer.
 

Whatever the circumstance, people have been getting burned by sloppy email practice for at least a decade. As a privacy problem, email carelessness hides in plain sight.

The Privicons project takes aim at the problem of email carelessness by means of "code-backed norms." Specifically, we have developed a vocabulary of icons for users to indicate how their email should be treated, a tool to affix icons to the beginning of email, and tentative commitments from email providers to test out the platform. The icons are based around ascii so that they can appear as embedded graphics or plain text and include a variety of instructions such as "don't print," "internal use only," and "confidential." And, importantly, the instructions can be overridden: we prefer an approach grounded in reminder and courtesy over hard-coded solutions that indiscriminately restrict speech.

Clothing manufacturers have long used icons to represent how clothing should be washed. The result is that fewer sweaters rip, fewer jeans fade, and fewer whites turn pink. Email users deserve at least the same opportunity to avoid privacy harms. This presentation hopes to recommend our "washing instructions for email" approach to the long-standing privacy issue of email carelessness.