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Posts Tagged ‘control’

Platform vs Relationships

February 15th, 2011
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A little while ago, Scott Adams wrote his thoughts about FutureMe and how it might  become a Facebook killer. Adams pointed out that information about our past–what we’ve already done–is useful, but less so than what we’re looking to do in the future. He suggests a new fourth party (user-driven) service:

The interface for Futureme is essentially a calendar, much like Outlook. But it would include extra layers for hopes and goals that don’t have specific dates attached.

For every entry to your Futureme calendar, you specify who can see it, including advertisers. If you allow advertisers a glimpse of a specific plan, it would be strictly anonymous. Advertisers could then feed you ads specific to your plan, while not knowing who they sent it to. The Futureme service would be the intermediary.

Now imagine that you never have to see any of the incoming ads except by choice. If you plan to buy a truck in a month, you would need to click on that entry to see which local truck advertisements have been matched to your plans. This model turns advertising from a nuisance into a tool. You‘d never see an ad on Futureme that wasn’t relevant to your specific plans.

The biggest benefit of the system could come from your network of friends and business associates. Suppose you post on the system that you would like to see a Bon Jovi concert sometime in the next year. Now your friends – the ones you specify to see this specific plan – can decide if they want in on it.  Maybe someone you know can get free tickets, and someone has a van and is willing to be the designated driver.  Maybe someone has a contact that can get you backstage passes. By broadcasting your plan, you make it possible for others to improve your plan.

Conversely, if you plan to do something stupid, your contacts have time to talk you out of it or suggest a superior alternative.

The great thing about Adams’ plan is that it shows how our data and online presence can be user-driven–meaning we make choices about who gets to see what. Moreover, by identifying Futureme as an intermediary on the user side, Adams has described a fourth-party service. (I’m guessing that Adams is intending this to be on the user side, or it can’t really live up to the promise of being a “Facebook killer.” I don’t know of any way at this time to be a perfectly neutral intermediary, so he likely has to fall on one side or the other.)

Coaching moment: I’d like to point out a significant distinction here between platforms and relationships. Adams is apparently describing a platform for social interaction and commercial services. This is also the Facebook model. On Facebook, someone else (the shareholders of Facebook) owns your user data and service usage logs. Facebook is in control. As we’ve seen before, it’s one thing to set your privacy wishes, but if Facebook is calling the shots, the rules can be changed anytime. Moreover, you’re always under surveillance whether you knowingly agree to that or not.

Now consider the idea of personal data stores where you control your data in any way you wish, using software tools that you choose, on hardware that you own (or not), at any time or under circumstances that you want. Nobody gets access that you don’t authorize. Wouldn’t that be something?

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On Data and Disclosure

December 15th, 2009
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I like to think about ways to customize my world, and the digital world writ large, in ways that support and help us explore our unique selves. It is in our very diversity that individual strengths can play out to become our personal best, to help each other grow, and create fertile new worlds.

However, under the guise of “increased security,” we are increasingly surrounded by tools and technologies that minimize and standardize us, including video surveillance and data storage and analysis. About that last link to Google, CEO Eric Schmidt recently said “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

This indiscriminate personal data hoarding is both an individual and a societal problem. Schmidt’s argument that we shouldn’t have anything to hide is specious (not to mention a double standard: it doesn’t apply to Schmidt). In a 2007 paper called ‘I’ve Got Nothing to Hide’ and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy, George Washington University Law School’s Daniel J. Solove convincingly critiques that argument. Indeed we have many things to hide, like our passwords and credit card numbers, certain personal habits and preferences, things that contribute to human dignity and respect. As noted security expert Bruce Schneier writes in his essay The Eternal Value of Privacy, “Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control.”

Ironically, Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly host a blog called The Quantified Self where they report about people exploring ways to keep track of themselves. It’s a significant difference between curiosity, personal need, and voluntary disclosure that’s driving data sets, and corporate ventures like Facebook (nod to jerking you around again with recent privacy policy changes), Google (Schneier’s response to Schmidt’s quote above), and damned near every corporate site you make an account with and that tracks your every move these days.

I’m looking for examples of sites that encourage liberty and demonstrate some respect for its users/clients. I will be reporting on what I find. If you have suggestions, I welcome them.

Coaching moment: Here’s a little thought exercise. Think about a typical day in your life.

What kind of things do you do in private? These might be taking a shower, brushing your teeth, thinking about the day. Some things might be really private as in just you by yourself, and other things may be private in some context, like thinking about your day out loud with your spouse or partner. Once you get a good list, which of those things would make you uncomfortable if they were made public in some way?

Now think of the kind of things you do in public, like driving to work or the store, walking around, having a conversation over lunch. Think about stories that might be told about you from the perspective of not knowing what you were really doing. You might take clues from signs that you walk by, or maybe other people (posture, groupings, facial expressions). Can you think of any stories that are not only wrong but might hurt you?

Finally, think about your online tools. Have you actually looked at the Terms of Service or Privacy Policies that you’re agreeing to? If you knew they were disrespectful to you or even abusive of your personal self and liberty, would you stop using them? Since the answer is “probably not,” what would you suggest these companies change?

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The Right to be Yourself

October 18th, 2009
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Sentient Developments has a thought provoking post called Cognitive liberty and right to one’s mind that talks about cognitive liberty, neurodiversity, and the right to control one’s own mind. Author George Dvorsky states that, while there may be compelling reasons why treatment might be appropriate (like for people engaged in criminally harmful behavior), it may be undesirable to “cure” those who are neurologically different (because of Aspergers or autism, for example). From the article:

Cognitive liberty is not just about the right to modify one’s mind, emotional balance and psychological framework (for example, through anti-depressants, cognitive enhancers, psychotropic substances, etc.), it’s also very much about the right to not have one’s mind altered against their will. In this sense, cognitive liberty is very closely tied to freedom of speech. A strong argument can be made that we have an equal right to freedom of thought and the sustained integrity of our subjective experiences.

Coaching moment: Your mind is a big part of what makes you unique in the world. You may choose to alter your mind by learning, drugs, television, or many other means. This is your choice. However, I doubt that many people would be supportive of a nationwide drug program to make us all the same (as if that were possible, which I also doubt).

This reminds me of a short story by Kurt Vonnegut called Harrison Bergeron. It starts out:

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. …

The future will not be so kind as Vonnegut. We will need all forms of our diversity to tackle some of our own global problems and creations. We are better served by learning how to listen and learn from each other. Each of us is unique. Together we are still different. That is our strength if we allow for it.

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The State of Digital Identity

July 6th, 2009
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This video is the first of eight parts of a panel discussion from RSA 2009: Panel of Identity Organizations. This panel discussion is a bit technical, with speakers talking about standards and how things work (or not). RSA, the company hosting this conference, is involved in security, cryptography, and related technologies.

The entire series in this panel discussion is about an hour long. Sometimes I don’t mind listening to discussions that are over my head in terminology or technical detail if I can take away a general idea of where things are. From this hour, I came to understand the following things:

  • open source, and more importantly open standards, are key to developing interoperable tools
  • making all of these ideas work together is “in progress” as there are lots of pieces in each idea
  • it’s tough to find a balance between putting us in control and giving us too much to control
  • there are many bright and determined minds working on this

Coaching moment: I’m optimistic that a day will come in which you can choose to represent yourself with greater detail. For example, you may not wish to “friend” everyone who asks you on Facebook or MySpace, and you might not follow everyone back on Twitter. If you did, you might want to choose to see (or not see) certain people in your friend or twitter streams every day. It will be easy to, say, turn off “loudmouthguy” for a few days, or “use this account to log into those other accounts.”

Mind boggling, eh? Here’s the secret: it all gets down to trust and attention. Both are your most valuable assets.

Who in your life do you trust most? Who would you like to pay greatest attention to? Now imagine some form of customimized slider bars that you could adjust for everyone you know: from 0 (not much trust or attention) to 10 (alert me if this person says anything). Once you set this up, what would your world be like?

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Mapping the New Frontier

June 28th, 2009

Personal Data EcosystemThis picture, and the accompanying post The Personal Data Ecosystem, describes a flow of data from and about us. (Click on the picture for a larger, more readable version on Flickr.)

This rather detailed article talks about the need for a Personal Data Store, a database of a sort, in which you could “source, gather, manage, enhance and selectively disclose data” that supports your needs. More importantly, this data store is something that YOU would control. This is significant because it inverts the power structure for data (right now everything is in the hands of the collector organizations), and makes your personal data more valuable by being more accurate, targeted to your needs, and freely exchanged for a specific purpose. The authors point out the desirability of this new paradigm: “if a new source emerges that is richer, deeper, more accurate, less toxic – and all at lower cost than existing sources; then organisations will use this source.” Note that the organizations will no longer need to maintain and update their databases at the same level that they do now.

Coaching moment: Many people don’t think twice about giving their name, address, phone number, and email address, to strangers if it means they might win a prize or gain some free advantage. Getting something for nothing has a strong pull. Their data has no inherent value to them. We’ve been trained well by the advertising and other industries that we are lacking, or that we are nothing without their products or services. On some level, we believe this.

It’s a lie.

Our value is in our uniqueness. We see and experience things in ways that are different from everyone else. Our perspectives on life, our needs to interact with others, our personal wishes and desires are part of who we are. The essence of what we think of as “good,” “moral,” or “right” is what we might contribute to making the world a better place.

Yes, we have things in common: the need to be loved, to eat and have shelter. Look beyond our necessities. If you could find others in the world that lifted you up and made you feel special, and you did the same for them, wouldn’t you want this? Can you think of any likely path that might happen with the current state of data ownership?

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