Pay Me for My Data #privchat

January 4, 2011

Every Tuesday at 12noon Eastern, 11am Central, there is a Twitter chat on privacy called #privchat.

My views on privacy are no secret and it has been really interesting to see the evolution and continued discussion before, during and after #privchat. Today was no exception. Someone suggested “track me or charge me,” meaning we allow companies to track our movements and what not online, or pay a fee, say $5/month, to NOT be tracked. Aside from the fact that whomever is collecting the $5 a month has to track us to make sure we pay, something else struck m, especially with Facebook’s $50 billion valuation after Goldman Sachs investment.

Facebook is compiled completely of our information. Links we post, status updates, Pages we “like,” photos we upload, etc. Google improves its search in part from all the searches we perform. Our data is clearly valuable because both companies, and many others, make money off what we provide.

So here’s my thought: pay me a percentage of each sale you get from my data. In other words, I want a cut of the proceeds you make by sharing my data…check that…I want a cut of the proceeds you get by me choosing, CHOOSING, to share my data. You profit. Advertisers or you other “clients” and I profit. Plus, if I get a cut, I want to know from where. That means I will hold you accountable for what you do with my data. That means you better pay attention to what you do with my data. Without my data, you are SOL because I can take my data somewhere else. Better yet, I can hoard my data and bleed you dry.

Information is power, they say, and with the Internet, information is also money.

So if you’re going to use my information, give me a cut of the proceeds. You might be surprised at the amount of data you get in return for a slice of the profits. And think of how much better targeting you can do, and what other avenues you can reach that would otherwise remain out of reach.


Even email #privacy is protected under 4th Amendment

December 15, 2010

Big news yesterday out of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals: email is protected by the 4th Amendment.

The government needs a warrant now, not simply a court order, to go snooping around your email via your ISP. The court ruled that ISPs are “the functional equivalent of a post office or a telephone company,” but I think this is more apt:

“Given the fundamental similarities between e-mail and traditional forms of communication, it would defy common sense to afford e-mails lesser Fourth Amendment protection.”

Yes. That’s correct. The phrase “common sense,” actually “defy common sense,” is used. A rarity for common sense to be applied to law at any level, so it is especially heartening and exciting.

There’s more details on ArsTechnica, and the EFF, of course, including a link to the case, U.S. v. Warshak. Give it a read. Give all of it a read.


#tsa, Body Scanners and Pat Downs

November 23, 2010

By now you’ve heard the outcry over #tsa body scanners and their new “enhanced” pat down procedures. Timing may be coincidental. Body scanners have been popping up in airports around the country for awhile. I’ve been through a body scanner myself at General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee. It was quick and painless, though I did wonder what happened to the image after I made my way to the gate. Be nice if I could get a copy, or have some kind of “enhanced” driver’s license or passport that, when scanned, would show the image so I could proceed through security that much quicker. Make the image good for 5 years or 5,000 miles and then require a re-scanning. Oh wait. That makes sense.

Following the furor as the Thanksgiving travel time approaches, it occurred to me that the biggest threat to airline profitability may be the #tsa, and not terrorism, which is what we’re supposedly being protected against. Terrorism that is, not the #tsa.

To me, the “enhanced” pat downs are ridiculous. #tsa claims it’s in response to the Christmas Day Underwear Bomber, but neglects to point out that he boarded a plane OUTSIDE the United States. The next claim is that the new procedures are in response to packages disguised as bombs being put on airplanes. #tsa still hasn’t clarified how patting down individuals stops the flow of packages on any type of aircraft. Unless #tsa has a different definition of “package” but let’s not even go there.

I get the concerns over the body scanners. Storing of images, which #tsa initially denied but oops, turns out they store them. Issues of radiation, which seems kind of ridiculous when you think about all the radiation we’re exposed to in the course of a normal, non-travel day. As with any new technology, there are risks, and those risks may not be fully understood until well after the new technology is introduced. If the radiation is that big of an issue, then we should all get discounts on health care, or a refund from the body scan companies for the cost of our annual physical. It’s not like that data can’t be tracked, and it’s not like comparisons can’t be made. There’s something to be said for combining all these disparate pieces of data about us floating around. Us citizens might as well share in the profits of health care and body scanning machines, no?

Then again, we can demonstrate the common sense #tsa and most of government seems to lack.

Empty your pockets completely. Remove your belt. Remove your shoes. Walk on through.

If you really want to get to the heart of the matter, contact the companies that build the body scanning machines, contact your health care provider and be the squeaky wheel. Why can’t you get money back for passing through a body scanner? Why can’t the health care provider lower your deductible if you pass through a body scanner every year? Car insurance companies lower your rate each year if you don’t file a claim. Why can’t health care providers lower your deductible if you pass through a body scanner each year?

It’s clear these security measures aren’t going away, so let’s find a way to benefit. There are other players involved here. So instead of directing so much wrath at the #tsa, which granted deserves some. It does not deserve all, though. If you really want to make a statement, then call up the body scanning companies, call up your health care provider and if they continue to ignore you, then use different methods of transportation. Airlines will feel the pinch first, to be sure.

They are all companies more interested in the bottom line than in your well being, except maybe the #tsa, so the best way to get any to listen is to hit the pocket book. When that pocket book starts to feel thin, they perk up and start paying attention.

By that time, however, we may have all moved to train travel. If I were Amtrak, I’d start advertising the benefits of train travel over airline travel, and play up the hassles of #tsa and airport security measures, not to mention the cost benefits. Amtrak: a little break for family time and the family wallet.


Trend Observations: Privacy and the Economy

August 10, 2010

I’ve noticed some trends recently:

On the subject of privacy:

  • The Wall Street Journal published a series on the obvious, but then again it may only be obvious to those of us who have been paying attention and studying it. So kudos for deciding to use its heft to educate the populace, for once. We can argue about the Murdoch slant, and the issue of “tracking” WSJ does in another post.
  • Facebook is the first to take a body blow on the subject of privacy, and often pointed to as the villain we can’t live without. People seem to forget the amount of data Google collects across all of its services. I suspect it’s because Facebook puts all its offerings under one roof, or one website, while Google has spread its out over multiple websites (Gmail, Picasa, Reader, Search, etc). And let’s not forget the amount of information it collects/tracks from its Android mobile OS. And there is the other brick-and-mortar places that collect data as well yet remain nameless since, well, they are brick-and-mortar stores, not bytes exchanged over the Internet. What harm could they possibly be?
  • People are getting wise to what they give up in the name of convenience, from credit card transactions to Web search histories to photos uploaded to wherever, not to mention “checking in” on FourSquare, Gowalla and the like. There is not yet a mass against, but there are tremors of something as people start to pay attention, to learn, and not like what they have discovered.
  • The population at large will have to do some soul searching on what, exactly, privacy means and what value, if any, it has.
  • Building privacy education into curriculum is still not an idea, outside Germany. Another example of US falling behind in education? Then again, how can you teach something you still can’t define?
  • Wikileaks finds itself caught in the cross hairs again after it released thousands of once-classified documents. Another instance of innocent bystanders caught in the middle, perhaps, that I have written about before. However, you have to admit that Wikileaks accomplished something many can’t quite figure out (or refuse to do): putting all documents related to a topic in one spot.

On the subject of the economy:

  • Bailed out financial industry is reporting profits.
  • Bailed out auto industry is reporting improvement, perhaps profits.
  • Another stimulus package is saving…ahem…retaining…jobs….government/education jobs.
  • Industries that get a bailout return to profitability.
  • The general public has yet to get a bailout, and will thus continue to suffer.

A few things are clear. There is no escaping the issue of privacy, and sooner or later we’re going to need to come to a consensus. You can bet those who feel their interests (wallets) are threatened will mount a hefty lobbying effort. Be interesting to see how lobbyists react when their “privacy” is violated in some fashion. If it doesn’t exist, as they might claim, then they shouldn’t get so upset, right? Kind of like the ridiculousness of Eric Schmidt getting upset that people could use Google to find his house. Expect much “cleaning up” of online profiles from lobbyists, which itself begs other questions. We are going to need to come to a consensus.

The government bailouts are working, though not in the manner in which the government wants us to believe. Industries that were bailed out have turned profitable again, yet aren’t being quick to hire. And industries that have not been bailed out are struggling, if not collapsing. One can conclude that a bailout = profitability, and the general public is putting two-and-two together. How well they do that may be reflected in upcoming elections.

It is clear, however, that there is no one solution to the ailing economy. We’re all a bit “Great Recession” weary now, and it is not surprising that tempers are flaring. Everyone gives a knee jerk reaction to news, good or bad. Hard pressed to find good news, come to think of it. There is too much uncertainty, no one knows what to believe. The public also  seems to be weary of the “trial and error” method the government is using.

With such creative job quitting the past couple days, though, from the flight attendant to the woman who quit via a dry erase board, you can only hope such creative thinking will be applied to creating jobs, too.


Do we trust companies because there are more of them?

June 10, 2010

That question popped into my head yesterday.

What I mean by that is if we don’t like a particular company, or if a particular company violates our rights in some fashion, we can take our business elsewhere. If Company A “misuses” our data, either on purpose or by accident, we can take our business to Companies B, C, D and so on. If we think Google has too much of our information, we can use Bing, Yahoo! or even the Yellow Pages. If we always get poor service at Subway, we can go to Jimmy Johns, or vise versa.

There is choice. And we may feel that one choice better meets our needs, better protects our information, than another.

However, there is not the same choice when it comes to government. And we are very untrustworthy of government. When the government makes a mistake, we suffer but we cannot take our business elsewhere. The most we can do is elect new representatives, and hope they adhere to promises of change made during campaigns. No more “business as usual.” When representatives fail to live up to those, we can’t do much except send letters and make phone calls. Sure, their public image may be harmed, but there is a long line of people ready to step into the void and repeat.

So, do we trust companies, then, because there are more of them?


Conveniently Dependent on Facebook, Google and the Internet

May 27, 2010

Brain Proffitt raises some interesting points in his article, Why Do We Trust Google More than Facebook, that he wrote in response to a post by Newclosed that raises interesting questions about the role of Google in the IT community.

Newclosed thinks that Google is the new Microsoft, and that it open sources its software because “it gives them free marketing as the good guys.” Makes sense as open source is in line with Google’s “Don’t be evil” mantra. And as its Chrome OS demonstrates, letting the masses tinker with code can yield some surprising, and helpful, results. You can argue that it comes down to timing. Google just happen to offer its code at the right time, a time when people were embracing open source and the concept of crowd sourcing. Both were around before Google, but Google made them main stream.

Proffitt points this out, and that the Web is the new platform and Google wants to own it, just as the PC was the platform back in the day and Microsoft wanted to own it. And then he delves into data collection, since, as Newclosed pointed out, Microsoft didn’t own user data, but Google does.

The definition of “own” is debatable, but the comparison is interesting. Remember, Microsoft sells desktop software. It sells software you install on your computer, and documents you create stay on your computer unless you choose to share them. You can share them my printing them out, having someone look over your shoulder or by attaching them in an email. At the end of the day, however, the documents remained on your desktop. Google offers a contrast that gets wrapped around the cloak of convenience.

I’ve made the convenience argument before, that convenience trumps privacy, and Proffitt offers something similar: “people are willing to pay the price for convenience from Google with a little less privacy.” While I believe it applies more generally, Proffitt focuses specifically on Google, and it still fits.

Instead of selling software, Google sells you convenience. Instead of having to compose a document on your desktop, and then email it for review only to get it back, download it again, make changes and repeat the process, you can compose a share a document on the Web using Google Docs. It is a marvelous, convenient way of creating documents. I co-wrote the open source article with Dennis Kennedy using Google Docs. It was incredibly easy, and convenient. Some, dare say, might call it efficient.

However, Google now has a fair amount of my information stored somewhere. The article, certainly, unless it has been deleted. But even its deletion from my Docs page doesn’t necessarily mean it is inaccessible to all. It still exists, somewhere, for a period of time. And there are all the other documents, spreadsheets, presentations and who knows what else. Not to mention email, search history, directions I’ve looked up, all the ads I’ve clicked on…compared to Microsoft’s desktop software, my digital footprint is gigantic. I’m certain there is more information Google has collected on me from any number of places, I certainly get an inkling of that when I see “ad.doubleclick.com” appear when a Web page loads.

If you really want to think this through, you may ultimately come to compare Google to Big Brother a-la 1984. It is pervasive, people are used to it, hardly give Googling or using any of Google’s services a second thought. Sound familiar?

Just as it is doubtful so many people will jump ship over Facebook’s privacy control issues, I highly doubt people will jump ship over Google’s vast collection of data. Just like Facebook already connects you with people, Google already makes use of your information. Dropping either immediately creates a big hole, and they know it. We’re dependent on the convenience offered by Facebook, Google and the Internet in general.


Facebook’s Open Graph: Beating Google to the Punch?

May 1, 2010

A complaint about the Web has been that there is so much information, and though Google makes it considerably easier to find information, it isn’t perfect. Many have thought that the rise of the semantic web, or the ability of computers to better predict the thoughts behind humans searching for information.

While reading Red Eye’s cover story on Facebook’s new “open graph” platform, a thought struck me:

Facebook is beating Google to the punch.

Its new “like” feature on partner sites lets you not only personalize the Web for you, but for others as well. It builds a collection of information that is automatically shared with your friends, who in turn can share it with their friends with the click of a button. At some point, it may be possible to find information faster by using Facebook than using Google. If you know a particular friend always shares information related to cooking recipes, it may be faster, and easier, to get a recipe from Facebook than by searching Google.

That seems in line with Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and his assertion that the open graph “helps to create a smarter, personalized Web that gets better with every action taken.” He talks about having more personalized experiences on the Web, implying that it is not simply a collection of information, but a connection of information.

On the one hand, this is good news. As search has evolved, and as we have become more accustomed to it, the challenge has been how to deliver a better experience. There are a number of players at work, from algorithms to data storage to search engine marketers, all trying to figure out what the algorithm wants. And the algorithm, or rather the people behind the algorithm, are in a constant struggle to deliver relevant content while keeping out spam, or people more inclined to game the system for profit rather than providing content people want.

Facebook’s new “like” button and its “open graph” platform has the ability to deliver the better experience without involving all the middle men. Instead of leaving it up to computer scientists to figure out how to improve search, Facebook has decided to crowd source the effort.

Crowd sourcing, however, presumes everyone wants to share everything with everyone. According to a post over on the Security Blog in January of this year, 35% of people checked their Facebook privacy settings, but the industry standard is about five to ten percent. The Electronic Frontier Foundation posted an outline of Facebook’s privacy policy changes, illuminating the erosion of privacy settings with which we have all become too familiar. It is difficult to see the continuing erosion as anything more than benefiting Facebook’s bottom line. Remember, though, that people thought the same thing of Google AdWords. It seemed like Google was now reading your email, and businesses could track your movements on websites once you clicked their ad. What we initially perceived as an invasion of privacy has become the standard. We’re accustomed to those ads in Gmail and in Google. And we like them. Why? Because they’re tailored to use by our search terms.

Facebook is now building on that idea, and taking it to the next level. Since Facebook collects so much data about us already, data we often freely volunteer, making it public seems the next logical step. Allowing us to more easily compile and share stuff we find online is the next logical step.

I posted earlier about an idea I’ve had, a dashboard for the Web. Perhaps Facebook is the on its way to becoming just that.