Society - Written by Jeff DeChambeau on Monday, May 31, 2010 15:20 - 6 Comments
The privacy discussion we need to have
I’ve written previously about gleaning insight into consumer habits by looking at log files, and profiled the so-called “bot mediated reality” of security consultant turned fiction author Daniel Suarez. So, when facebook’s latest privacy debacle happened, the idea of my wall-posts and liked-pages being shared with the world was secondary in my mind to the sheer amount of information that facebook collects about how we use the internet–both on and off the site (off-site tracking being done now with the embeddable “like” buttons that are cropping up all over the internet–this sort of thing is something that Google also can do/does with the analytics code that it makes available to webmasters, you can opt out of that here). The idea of one organization having that much information about what each of us is up to all over the internet and in our social networks, an organization that is repeatedly being showcased as ‘actively against privacy’ or technically incompetent, is very scary.
The bigger fear, I fear, is a much larger can of worms. This is why I was delighted to see Tim O’Reilly’s weekend post, Putting Online Privacy in Perspective. While O’Reilly’s post itself is largely quotes from search engine expert Danny Sullivan commenting on a WSJ article, it hits on a core issue that is often left below the surface when we’re openly discussing privacy: facebook is only one company that’s collecting data on our activities, there are many others, collecting and crunching data on many other (often ‘private’) activities. One example, as Sullivan explored:
My credit card company knows everything I’ve purchased, which is a pretty personal trail. That doesn’t get “anonymized” after 9 months or 18 months. I have no idea at all what happens to it. I can’t, like at Google, push a button and make it go poof, either. I don’t think I have any rights over it at all.
Credit card companies aren’t the only organizations with access to tons and tons of data about us. Our cellphone service providers know where we are and who we’re calling and texting, and our IM providers keep our conversations for a few weeks. Even in-game behaviors in videogames can be tracked. While a lot of this data collection is justifiable to improve the customer experience, it can all just as easily be used for any number of other purposes.
I think that this is where we need to focus our public dialog about privacy and control. Facebook’s data collection is just one symptom of the direction where society as a whole is moving: to the mass collection, aggregation, and cross referencing of consumer data so that organizations can better understand, target, and market to each and every one of us. From the perspective of the the enterprises, this is where we want to go, and more technology and instrumentation means more, better data. Speaking for myself, as a consumer and citizen, it’s not where I want things to end up. This is a discussion that we need to have.
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