Privicons Released: A User-to-User Email Privacy Tool

We're thrilled to announce the release of Privicons for Google Chrome, a tool for helping users deal with email carelessness: innocent misunderstandings and omissions about email privacy, like unwanted forwards or reply-alls, that embarrass the person whose email is passed along without permission.

The Privicons project is an international collaboration among lawyers, privacy researchers, computer scientists, and designers based at Stanford and in Europe, all working to reduce the harms of email carelessness through cross-disciplinary application of design principles, human-computer interaction research, and legal concepts. Privicons isn't like technical privacy solutions that use code to lock down communications. Instead, drawing on the work of Jonathan Zittrain, Lauren Gelman, and other privacy scholars, Privicons relies on norms-based social signals to influence users’ choices about privacy. To convey these signals, Privicons uses a vocabulary of icons that clearly communicate email senders’ privacy expectations. With the new Privicons plugin for Chrome, Gmail users can select from a list of these icons and attach them to their emails, unobtrusively but noticeably. (A Firefox plugin is next.) When recipients see these icons, we expect that many of them, motivated by neighborliness and their understanding of social norms, will comply with their peers’ wishes and expectations. We hope Privicons will be the nudge some people need to avoid email carelessness. Please try it and let us know what you think. (Plus, if you're a developer who wants to implement Privicons in a different way—be in touch, and read our RFC! We want Privicons to be an open concept.) Thanks to everyone on the Privicons team for your work and dedication.

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