Friday, January 15, 2010

Is the "Age of Privacy" Really Over?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently stated that social norms related to privacy have evolved since the company's founding in 2003. He said,
"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people."
What's interesting is the leap of logic he made from the valid point that social sharing is now a mainstream practice to the dubious unilateral decision made to change the default privacy settings for 350 million Facebook users:
"A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they've built, doing a privacy change - doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do. But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner's mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it."
I've railed on Linden Lab in the past about anti-consumer provisions in the Second Life Terms of Service (TOS) agreement. But they're just following the standard software industry practice of issuing one-sided agreements that secure all conceivable corporate interests and preemptively strip customers of any leverage they might otherwise have had in case of a legal dispute.

The overall issue of equitable TOS agreements is going to be an increasingly important concern because dependence on software-based capabilities is transitioning from an optional personal decision to a mandatory part of life in our modern culture.

The ability to manage our own privacy is not just a matter of controlling access to our information on a site-by-site basis, but also depends upon our ability to limit how information about us can be collected, shared and aggregated as a whole. The more virtual our lives become, the more third-parties will have the ability to monitor our activities, integrate data from multiple sources and use the information in their own interests.

The same technology that drives the personalized advertising messages you see on Facebook and Google today, can potentially be used by organizations such as insurance companies, financial institutions and potential employers to calculate our "worthiness" by automated analysis of aggregated information ranging from blog comments to video favorites on YouTube.

It seems to me that privacy laws such as those that have been introduced to protect health data in the United States (HIPAA) should be extended to a wider range of information. This would mean that social networks such as Facebook would be required to provide a minimum standard of privacy controls that they could not arbitrarily change through TOS amendments. It would also further limit the ability of companies such as Equifax to aggregate and share personally identifying information.

The best source for information on net-related privacy issues is the  Electronic Frontier Foundation. And they have a very cool xkcd tshirt option if you make a donation.


Lalo Telling said...

Interesting that you bring up EquiFax... I've been following up the "United Nations Citizen" virtual world announcement you blogged about, and discovered this on their website:

EquiFax provides the backend geo-targeting
real-time data mining to ensure that content distributed matches the
consumer demographics, psychographics and profiling opportunities only
available in-world.

[emphasis added]

Kwame Oh said...

here we go, its Friday and already hit the bottle so forgive my ramblings.

Yes merchants of all sorts will use your mined info to target you with their wares, but even with the amount of data you give willingly/unwillingly it is still an inexact science, akin to when you are asked what daily paper you read on employment application, as if this opens up your soul to interviewer.

Where I have a problem is the continued winging about privacy, without thought of the context hey unless we all been asleep this is "social" media, am not here to debate the semantics of what social means, but in the context of he/she is a sociable sort, is where its at in so far as I am concerned.

Do not know about you the reader but "loving him/her/them warts and all" means exactly that, bit of a let down down the road when cover up makeup is removed revealing warts of giant proportions without any acclimatization period.

So yes let there be scrutiny of control of data , but please you are who you are not who you say you are .

Sassy said...

I am who I am, not who Equifax says I am. :)

I do not want random people with criminal intent to know who, or where, I am. There are such people, and they use the internet.

Because of Facebook's actions and statements, I do not trust them to safeguard the information that could allow someone to harm me. Therefore, I will not give them that information.

Feel free to mock me as paranoid, but I pray you never learn the hard way, as I did.