Selling your soul for a freebie 5


I keep bumping into the privacy topic and for a while I have thought that there is something materially different about the intersection of your location, your trail of personal breadcrumbs on the internet and what smart people could/might do with that info. Location is a subtle privacy setting that people will find even more difficult to set than the 150 options on Facebook.

At an event last year someone said words to the effect of

“privacy is so old hat, the cat’s out of the bag, get over it, when are we going to stop going over and over this?”

That’s not verbatim but you will get the drift. Well it looks as if the cat is out of the bag so to speak, people are starting to wake up to how much of their info is “out there” (and by the way this is not an internet thing, there has always been loads of personal info out there that the Experians etc have been gathering, mining and selling) and they don’t feel quite as relaxed about it as my share everything friend. The flurry of privacy conversation around Facebook and their attempts to back track indicates the potential fury over privacy.

The Observer had a very good comment piece on the subject last week which finished with

The fact that many people undervalue their personal data does not stop it being a precious commodity.

Nor does it diminish the responsibility of those with the power to collect data to seek permission. Consent must never be presumed. That principle must apply in the marketplace just as it does to the state.

So if our personal data is a precious commodity, how are we going to determine a fair basis to entrust this commodity or at least some form of access to it to the businesses who want to offer us free services in return for exploiting our personal data? The big challenge for social networks, search engines and yes even those LBS games that I was ranting about this morning is to engage in a transparent and understandable dialogue with people about a win/win transaction exchanging access to personal data for useful services.

Tony Fish has been talking about My Digital Footprint and makes some thoughtful comments.

To the people who told me “privacy – get over it” I think my response is “Privacy – wake up to it or go out of business, assuming you are in business”


5 thoughts on “Selling your soul for a freebie

  • James C

    Ah, surveillance, a hobby horse of mine! Had something similar in draft more along the lines of a comment on the old saw reignited in December by Eric Schmidt (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/25/personal-secrets-to-internet-companies), as in “if you’ve ever been anywhere you don’t want anyone to know about, maybe you shouldn’t have been there in the first place”. I heard the ‘geddoverit’ line around the same time from another G person. Are they serious? Having said that data mining techniques on all the surveillance data being collected in the name of loyalty and civil defence can be deployed (and are) to draw a trail of personal location breadcrumbs – cameras, cards, numberplates et al all time stamped and geo-locatable – and daft as ‘Enemy of the State’ might seem the only way to stay off those databases (state or private) is to ‘go dark’. For most of us that really is not an option; after all the commercial customers for that data are better able to for example stock their stores to our benefit on the basis of the data gathered and mined. We have already placed great levels of trust, albeit blindly and/or for freebies, in these enterprises. So what trust we have to give online must as you say be acquired through transparent, controllable, opt-in processes in exchange for benefits tangible to the user in question. The rapid sprouting of a surveillance society had no such permission and, Facebook’s volte face notwithstanding, it is pretty late in the day to roll back parallel commercial surveillance. For example, with allegedly over 70% of headhunters are now checking applicants out online including across social media – past misdemeanours (visual or verbal) could very easily sour your future ambitions – the ambivalent and ignorant may come to regret their current laissez faire position (though within reason having a life may be advantageous!). The realistic option is to demand and avail of tools that give us that control and to deny access to our personal data and geography to those who don’t oblige or who make it difficult.

  • blabyboy

    I really like the way the geolocation aspect of html5 works. The browser prompts you and asks if you wish to share your location or not – I think this is only reasonable way to approach privacy and location.

    That’s not to say that businesses will like it, but I think if you initially assume a freemium model so that you encourage the user to share location on a session basis first and then try to ‘upsell’ them to permanently setting your site to always share location then that is the way to go. The trick is to be offering something that a user would be willing to do this for… that’s not really been answered by many companies at the mo… imho.

    Using the prompt supplants the check-in and leaves the user free to get on with the main focus of the app at hand.

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