Apparently, LinkedIn has recently done us the “favor” of having a default setting whereby our names and photos can be used for third-party advertising. A friend forwarded me this alert (from a friend, from a friend…) this morning.
Since Facebook has been such a good model of creative “reuse” of our personal information, and consequent destruction of personal trust in social settings, it seems corporately fitting that LinkedIn would try the same.
Coaching moment: Doesn’t it bother you when people make self-serving assumptions about what you want to share with others? True, you did voluntarily share this information, but shouldn’t you be able to express clear limits on how this shared information is used—before it’s misused? I think so!
Danah Boyd is an insightful researcher. She just wrote a post called “Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power in which she takes Google to task for their changing policies and rather abrupt practice of kicking people off of Google Plus. I agree that being arbitrary is an abuse of power when it affects people so strongly (disabling an account removes the use of all services, not just Google Plus). However, there are two kinds of power: shared, and proprietary.
Google, along with Facebook, Twitter, and in fact nearly all Internet-based services (Amazon, eBay, your Internet service provider, etc.), are proprietary. These services are run by companies that:
are private or beholden to shareholders (their “business model”),
have one-sided Terms of Service and Policy documents that users are required to agree to, and
are based on the selective delivery of their user base to their customers (usually advertisers).
A striking characteristic of these businesses is that they have a practice of reducing things to black and white. Our chosen (registered) name “is” or “is not” really us. See Doc’s post A Sense of Bewronging for more thought on this. In a simplified (business) sense, it is an abuse of social power to declare that many of us are not who we say we are, even if we’re known to many others by our chosen registered name.
Contrast this with a shared power model, like a commons, or services that are implemented according to open standards. The underlying Internet protocols (the apache web server, sendmail, TCP/IP, etc.) are not owned by anyone, everybody can use them, and anybody can improve them. These resources are shared—no terms of service is required to use the Internet or email with any device you choose, with any compatible software, from any location that has access. “Commons” is where you can be who you are, no matter what name you go by.
Coaching moment: This may be a non-issue for some. I have friends that use their name to create a “brand” for themselves—so people will recognize them everywhere, and know what they’re about. However, that’s not an option for people in sensitive situations. Think of it this way: Everyone has a moment when they choose not to disclose some bit of information to the world. Sometimes it’s a name. That’s not a bad thing, and it should be a choice.
Joe Andrieu described and discussed with us this idea of why we might wish to organize and later use our search history for other purposes. Here’s part one (about 4 minutes) and part two (30 minutes) of the IIW12 session on Portable Context. This is a fascinating and functional idea on many levels. It’s “reinventing behavioral tracking by putting individuals in charge.”
Coaching moment: It’s one thing to bookmark a site, but quite another to find that bookmark among your many other bookmarks later on. Even if you have your bookmarks sorted into categories, don’t you sometimes wish you knew which specific page on a site had something you wanted to see later, but couldn’t find? Or sometimes want to sort your history into project threads? Or show someone how you found something? Yes, this project is about that, and more.
Data-gathering firms and technology companies are aggressively matching people’s TV-viewing behavior with other personal data—in some cases, prescription-drug records obtained from insurers—and using it to help advertisers buy ads targeted to shows watched by certain kinds of people.
How this translates, the article explains, is that these companies are now tracking you at a level of surfing and life-involvement that is highly customizable to your tv. (They don’t have to know your name, they know who you are by your habits.) Let’s say, for example, that you watched five cookie commercials (tracked), then later in the week you bought a package of cookies (tracked from purchases). These companies will start to get a picture of how many cookie commercials (or anything else that you watch) it will take to affect your behavior. Using an example from the article, the U.S. Army tested four different ads for recruitment:
One group, dubbed “family influencers” by Cablevision, saw an ad featuring a daughter discussing with her parents her decision to enlist. Another group, “youth ethnic I,” saw an ad featuring African-American men testing and repairing machinery. A third, “youth ethnic II,” saw soldiers of various ethnicities doing team activities.
Someone will likely claim that there’s no personally identifiable information being exchanged. That will be a lie, as they could only make that claim by defining “personally identifiable information” in a very different way than regular people–or government regulators–would. This is more about tracking and compiling the most intimate details of our lives, so we can be manipulated into acting a certain way.
Coaching moment: Corporate behavior like this is an example of a slippery slope. There is no real end to the social destruction that could be wrought on our world by corporate visions of a “good society.” I doubt that any one person that works for these companies would wish to be tracked and manipulated in this way. But when that person goes to work for a company that does this, the person is “just doing his job.”
There’s a clear reason why “Do Not Track” legislation is being proposed. This story points out an example of tracking that, I would argue, crosses ethical boundaries. It’s one thing to use voluntarily shared data about people. It’s another to invade their homes and lives for corporate gain.
I might be over-reacting. How do you feel about this?
The Dependent Web is dominated by companies that deliver services, content and advertising based on who that service believes you to be: What you see on these sites “depends” on their proprietary model of your identity, including what you’ve done in the past, what you’re doing right now, what “cohorts” you might fall into based on third- or first-party data and algorithms, and any number of other robust signals.
The Independent Web, for the most part, does not shift its content or services based on who you are. However, in the past few years, a large group of these sites have begun to use Dependent Web algorithms and services to deliver advertising based on who you are.
Note the key words “who the service believes you to be.” Battelle continues,
“In a Dependent Web model, the data and processes used to deliver results is opaque and out of the consumer’s control. What we see depends on how the site interprets pre-conceived models of identity it receives from a third party.”
This raises the significant question of who they think we are. They have a pretty distorted picture, given all of the many reasons and persons we sometimes represent. The problem is that increasingly there is no way to separate ourselves (as we wish to be seen) from “ourselves” (as they’ve’ defined us). Jumping to the end of Battelle’s intriguing post:
I think it’s worth defining a portion of the web as a place where one can visit and be part of a conversation without the data created by that conversation being presumptively sucked into a sophisticated response platform – whether that platform is Google, Blue Kai, Doubleclick, Twitter, or any other scaled web service. Now, I’m all for engaging with that platform, to be sure, but I’m also interested in the parts of society where one can wander about free of identity presumption, a place where one can chose to engage knowing that you are in control of how your identity is presented, and when it is revealed.
Coaching moment: Some people are very careful, and others are not at all, about what we search for and say on the net. In the end, it doesn’t matter as much as we might intend. We can’t track or make the same gross assumptions as the information industry is wont to do.
We don’t yet have the tools to shift this situation, but it won’t be long. Several companies are working on this–under names such as Personal Data Store and Personal Data Cloud. There will be a day in your future when, for example, you won’t have to change your home address on a lot of sites that deliver goods, services, or utilities to your home. You’ll change it once, in your personal data area, and the vendors you authorize will come to you for that update.