When the government threatened to regulate an industry that has for some time been playing fast and loose with people’s personal data, the industry proposed to open their databases–at least a little. The Open Data Partnership is claimed to be a “market-wide collaboration that allows consumers to gain more control over the information that companies have collected about their interests in one easy-to-use portal.”
Better Advertising’s Open Data Partnership is exactly the kind of initiative that will enable us to remain self-regulated as an industry. The more transparency we can provide consumers that enables them to retain control over their own data, the more trusted our ecosystem becomes – to the benefit of everyone.
Interestingly, many of the big data tracking companies have already signed on. (Hubspot, which just received an infusion of $32M from Google and Salesforce, are all missing from the list.)
With predictions for a sharp increase in analytics and data mining in 2011, the window offered by the Open Data Partnership is an interesting third option to “Do Not Track” or laissez-faire. It gives people better understanding and control over what they’re sharing and why. That said, it’s still about advertising (in which people are the product, not the customers).
Coaching moment: This is an interesting situation. If you could know more about yourself by looking at the data being collected, would you? Once you saw this information, would you be inclined to help correct it? If not, why?
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?
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.
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.”
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?
This is a working demo for an “augmented identity” system. ReadWriteWeb has a great article about this called Augmented ID: Augmented Reality Facial Recognition for Mobile that talks about the program in this video as well as others working in this area. One note: at this point in time and development, you need to capture the person’s face from the front.
Coaching moment: Have you ever gone somewhere and wondered about a place you were passing? Or joined a party and wished you remembered someone’s name? Your new glasses might be fitted with a small digital screen to display certain things (like names) discreetly. Your new audio stream might include stories and facts about places you’re walking through. Learning about things will become a whole new experience.
Of course there’s another side: surveillance and public cameras can be matched with face and license plate recognition for pervasive and effective surveillance. In the (near) future, it’s possible that your parent or spouse may not need to ask where you were last night.
Right now, the greatest promises are those we hold in our own hands. Where we control the information that we need, when we need it, we are empowered to benefit from the augmentations (hardware and software). When control of information is in control by unknown interests, be they law enforcement, private organizations, or malevolent forces, we do not enjoy the benefits of safety, security, or helpful information despite the public relations stories.
Here’s a suggestion to help you think about this. Go for a walk and take a note pad with you. Make several brief stops and look around. What would you like to know about where you are? What would you be worried about happening? How will augmented reality tools help or hurt your wishes? Write those things down. Keep writing in your notebook for a week and see what happens.
One of the many ways we identify ourselves is as a member of a city, state, or country. This context brings certain benefits, rights, and responsibilities. People in your community have practices and understandings about what it means to be a member, including beliefs about behaviors that might result in someone being ejected from that community.
A couple of years ago, Forbes.com published Cory Doctorow’s Snitchtown essay. In it Doctorow explored what makes a community and how video surveillance violates a loosely understood “social contract” without returning significant social benefits. From Doctorow’s essay:
The key to living in a city and peacefully co-existing as a social animal in tight quarters is to set a delicate balance of seeing and not seeing. You take care not to step on the heels of the woman in front of you on the way out of the subway, and you might take passing note of her most excellent handbag. But you don’t make eye contact and exchange a nod. Or even if you do, you make sure that it’s as fleeting as it can be.
The irony of security cameras is that they watch, but nobody cares that they’re looking. Junkies don’t worry about CCTVs. Crazed rapists and other purveyors of sudden, senseless violence aren’t deterred. I was mugged twice on my old block in San Francisco by the crack dealers on my corner, within sight of two CCTVs and a police station. My rental car was robbed by a junkie in a Gastown garage in Vancouver in sight of a CCTV.
The irony, as Doctorow points out, is that “When you watch everyone, you watch no one.” This is a classic case of missing the forest for the trees. We have millions of eyes, but with them we can not see.
Emma Byrne published a photoessay on her blog (direct to the PDF) to illustrate Doctorow’s essay. Byrne notes that her photographs include “some of the 4.2 million CCTV cameras currently estimated to be active in Britain.” Yow!
Coaching moment: Do you have cameras in your neighborhood? Look around, I bet you do. Surveillance cameras act as silent and ever-vigilant recordings of our every public move. They don’t come with any indication of why they’re there, or who’s watching.
Have you ever walked to the other side of a street, or taken another path through a store, so as not to be in the middle of the camera? Have you ever noticed a camera then quickly responded by looking down or away? Worn sunglasses and a hat so as not to be as easily recognized? Or does the surveillance make you feel safe? Why?
Note that you may not have anything to hide. You may have done nothing wrong in public. That’s not the question. For most people the surveillance just feels illegitimate, creepy and wrong.