Besides shout outs to 97bottles.com and Janrain for their stats on third-party account login usage, we discussed how the Obama administration might better make use of or leverage elements of the Open Stack — specifically OpenID.
Politics is something that I normally don’t cover on my blog, but not for any particularly reason. I typically get more [publicly] worked up about technology and the economics and politics of technological development than I do about directly human-facing issues, but that’s not because I’ve ever lost sight of the fact that ultimately all this technology is intended to serve people, or that there are more important, and more visceral, issues that could be tackled for greater, or longer lasting effect. It’s just that I haven’t really felt like I had an articulate contribution to make.
Perhaps until now.
If you’re not interested in political discourse, that’s of course your prerogative and you certainly can skip this post. Personally, however, I’ve become increasingly interested in what’s going on in this country (my country), and increasingly enamored of political dialogue (however bereft of content as it sometimes is) as well as our representative democracy — an imperfect system to be sure, but one that at least, by and large, affords its constituents a voice in matters local, state and federal. And personal.
Here in California, we have a cagey system of democracy where voters are provided the opportunity to consider multiple arguments for and against several propositions presented on a ballot to determine numerous policies at both the state and local level. I voted absentee yesterday (as I’ll be traveling to Oceania later this week) and along with the ballot for the presidential election, there were two accompanying ballots, one for the state and one for the city of San Francisco, where I am a resident.
On the state ballot is Proposition 8, effectively an amendment to the California state constitution that would ban gay marriage by defining it strictly as a union of a heterosexual couple: one man, one woman.
I voted against this proposition. And I’ll tell you why.
Back in the day…
When I was a senior in high school (in conservative “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire), I supported an initiative to create a gay-straight student alliance, or GSA. At the time, I was on the staff of the newspaper and was more informed of the various controversies affecting my classmates, but I’ll admit, I was also pretty ignorant of other “lifestyles”. Still, if my parents taught me anything, tolerance and self-respect were a few of the more subtle lessons that must have stuck, which led me to support the effort.
As I had done for many of the school’s student clubs, I created a homepage with information on the GSA initiative and hosted it on my own website. I had also single-handed built my high school’s website (even though I couldn’t get any educator besides the dorky librarian to care) and inserted a banner ad into the site’s rotating pool of four or five ads promoting the other school club sites that I’d designed.
The ad for the GSA, which didn’t say much more than “Find out more” with a link off-site, was in rotation for several weeks when I was called down to the principal’s office to explain why I was announcing school policy without authorization. So it goes in the petri-dish of adolescent high school politics and unbalanced power relationships.
Rather than use this as an educational opportunity, the principal, who later became mayor of the city, decided instead to use this situation as a reeducational opportunity and externally suspended me for six days, meaning I wouldn’t be able to graduate.
I’ll cut to the chase in a moment, but in response, I took down the GSA ad — as well as the entire high school’s site (I was hosting that on my own server too — back in 1999 schools didn’t know what a “web server” was). I vowed that I wouldn’t turn over the site files until they’d written up rules governing what students were and weren’t allowed to post to the school’s site; meanwhile my mom threatened to sue the school.
My infraction was small beans (and eventually overturned) compared with the lawsuit that GLAD and the ACLU filed against the school district barring discrimination against school clubs. By the time the lawsuit was decided in favor of the students, I had graduated and moved off to Pittsburgh, but the experience, and impression that it left on me, has resonated since.
None of these contested issues really consume you until you’re personally affected, as I was in high school, and today I feel equally affected by this proposition, but more capable of doing something about it.
The arguments for and against are fairly straight forward, but for me it comes down to two things:
- First, I don’t believe that laws should codify discrimination. Our history as a nation has been blighted by both gender and racial discrimination, and now we’re facing discrimination against the makeup of certain families — specifically those of same-sex couples. Good law should strive to be non-ideological; discrimination is nearly always ideologically driven.
- Second, if marriage as an institution stems from a religious foundation, but is represented in law, by the principle of the separation of church and state and presuming the importance of tolerance to culture, we should cleft out the religious underpinnings of marriage from law and return it to the domain of the church, especially if the church mandates that the definition of marriage is strictly between a man and a woman. The state should therefore only be in the business of recognizing in law civil unions, or the lawful coming together of two people in union. Marriage itself would be a separate religious institution, having no basis in civil law.
In other words, should marriage persist in law, then it should not be discriminatory against same-sex couples. If marriage must only be for heterosexual couples, then it should be removed from the state constitution and replaced with civil unions, which would be available to any two willing citizens.
The examples that have informed my thinking on this come from real people — friends whom I’ve now known for some time, and who I could not imagine being legally separated from their partners because of religious zealotry and illogical reasoning.
The first is Hillary Hartley, a good friend and fellow coworker at Citizen Space, who has been with her partner for eight years, having known her for 15. They were recently (finally!) able to get married in California, but the vote on November 4 threatens to annul their marriage. Think about that: the potential of this decision could dissolve the legal recognition of a perfectly happy, stable and loving relationship. I can’t even imagine what that must feel like, and because I am a heterosexual male, I never will. And that’s completely unjust.
Marnie Webb is a also good friend of mine, who has been active in the non-profit technology space for years, and who I met through Compumentor, NetSquared and TechSoup (she’s co-CEO of TechSoup). Marnie faces the same fate as Hillary, but in her case, it would mean that Marnie’s daughter, Lucy, would grow up with parents who were legally not allowed to recognize their union, nor have rights for hospital visitation among other benefits of marriage.
The low-pressure ask
So here’s what I’m asking for. I’ll give you three options.
First, THINK about this. Talk to people about it. I’m certainly not going to make up your mind for you, but if you were (or are) in a heterosexual marriage and it was threatened to be annulled by changes in law, how would you feel about it? What would you do? The problem with discrimination is that someone’s always losing out; next time it could be you.
Second, VOTE. When you see Proposition 8 on the ballot, vote your conscience, not your ideology. Belief systems are powerful and complex, but they’re not always right. And times do change. It’s counter-intuitive to me that we’ve spent seven years and untold billions fighting for “Iraqi Freedom” when in our country we’re threatening to take civil liberties away from natural-born citizens.
Third, GIVE something. Obviously the presidential campaigns have probably tapped you out, especially given the uncertainly in the market, but you can give more than just money: you can give your time, or you can give mindshare and voice to these issues by widening the conversation, retweeting this post, blogging about it, or taking a video to record your own sentiments.
If you do want to donate money, both Hillary and Marnie have set up respective donation pages. The challenge we’re facing is that proponents of Prop 8 are better-funded and are able to put more ads on TV and make more phone calls. Money in this case can be directly turned into awareness, and into action. If you’ve got $5, it can make a difference, especially now, as your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar. It’s up to you.
Had an interesting email exchange with my mom earlier today about Monica Hesse’s story Bytes of Life. The crux of the story is that more and more people are self-monitoring and collecting data about themselves, in many cases, because, well, it’s gotten so much easier, so, why not?
Well, yes, it is easier, but just because it is easier, doesn’t automatically mean that one should do it, so let’s look at this a little more deeply.
First, my mom asked about the amount of effort involved in tracking all this data:
I still have a hard time even considering all that time and effort spent in detailing every moment of one’s life, and then the other side of it which is that it all has to be read and processed in order to “know oneself”. I think I like the Jon Cabot Zinn philosophy better — just BE in the moment, being mindful of each second doesn’t require one to log or blog it, I don’t think. Just BE in it.
Monica didn’t really touch on too many tools that we use to self-monitor. It’s true that, depending on the kind of data we’re collecting, the effort will vary. But so will the benefits.
If you take a look at MyMileMarker’s iPhone interface, you’ll see how quick and painless it is to record this information. Why bother? Well, for one thing, over time you get to see not only how much fuel you’re consuming, but how much it’s going to cost you to keep running your car in the future:
Without collecting this data, you might guess at your MPG, or take the manufacturer’s rating as given, but when you record what actually is happening, you can prove to yourself whether filling up your tires really does save you money (or the planet).
On the topic of the environment, recording my trips on Dopplr gives me an actual view of my carbon footprint (pretty damning, indeed):
As my mom pointed out, perhaps having access to this data will encourage me to cut back excess travel — or to consolidate my trips. Ross Mayfield suggests that he could potentially quit smoking if his habit were made more plainly visible to him.
What’s also interesting is how passive monitors, or semi-passive monitoring tools, can also inform, educate or predict — and on this point I’m thinking of Last.fm where of course my music taste is aggregated, or location-based sites like Brightkite, where my locative behavior is tracked (albeit, manually — though Fire Eagle + Spot changes that).
My mom’s other point about the ability to just BE in the moment is also important — because self-tracking should ideally be non-invasive. In other words, it shouldn’t be the tracking that changes your behavior, but your analysis and reflection after the fact.
One of the stronger points I might make about this is that data, especially when collected regularly and when the right indicators are recorded, you can reduce a great amount of distortion from your self-serving biases. Monica writes:
“We all have the tendency to see our behaviors in a little bit of a halo,” says Jayne Gackenbach, who researches the psychology of the Internet at Grant MacEwan College in Alberta, Canada. It’s why dieters underestimate their food intake, why smokers say they go through fewer cigarettes than they do. “If people can get at some objective criteria, it would be wonderfully informative.” That’s the brilliance, she says, of new technology.
I do agree that people lie, or misperceive, and that data is a truer bearer of actualities. I guess I don’t care. Story telling is an art form, too. There’s something sort of 1984ish about all this data collection – – as if the accumulated data could eventually turn us all into robotic creatures too self-programmed to suck the real juice out of life.
I certainly am sympathetic to that view, especially because the characterization of life in 1984 was so compelling and visceral. The problem is that this analogy invariably falls short, especially in other conversations when you’re talking about the likes of Google and other web-based companies.
In 1984, Big Brother symbolized the encroachment of the government on the life of the private citizen. Since the government had the ability to lock you up or take you away based on your behavior, you can imagine that this kind of dystopic vision would resonate in a time when increasingly fewer people probably understand the guts of technology and yet increasingly rely on it, shoveling more and more of their data into online repositories, or having it collected about them as they visit various websites. Never before has the human race had so much data about itself, and yet (likely) so little understanding.
The difference, as I explained to my mom, comes down to access to — and leverage over — the data:
I want to write more about this, but I don’t think 1984 is an apt analogy here. In the book, the government knows everything about the citizenry, and makes decisions using that data, towards maximizing efficiency for some unknown — or spiritually void — end. In this case, we’re flipping 1984 on its head! In this case we’re collecting the data on OURSELVES — empowering ourselves to know more than the credit card companies and banks! It’s certainly a daunting and scary thought to realize how much data OTHER people have about us — but what better way to get a leg up then to start looking at ourselves, and collecting that information for our own benefit?
I used to be pretty skeptical of all this too… but since I’ve seen the tools, and I’ve seen the value of data — I just don’t want other people to profit off of my behaviors… I want to be able to benefit from it as well — in ways that I dictate — on my terms!
In any case, Tim O’Reilly is right: data is the new Intel inside. But shouldn’t we be getting a piece of the action if we’re talking about data about us? Shouldn’t we write the book on what 2014 is going to look like so we can put the tired 1984 analogies to rest for awhile and take advantage of what is unfolding today? I’m certainly weary of large corporate behemoths usurping the role the government played in 1984, but frankly, I think we’ve gone beyond that point.
Imagine a browser of the web, by the web, and for the web. Not simply a thick client application that simply opens documents with the
http:// protocol instead of
file://, but one that runs web applications (efficiently!), that plays the web, that connects people across the boundaries of the silos and gives them local-like access to remote data.
Take a step back. You can see the relics of desktop computing in our applications’ file menus… and we can intuit the assumptions that the original designer must have made about the user, her context and the interaction expectations she brought with her:
Indeed, the browser is a funny thing, because it’s really just a wrapper for someone else’s content or someone’s else’s application. That’s why it’s not about “features“. It’s all about which features, especially for developers.
It’s a hugely powerful place to insert oneself: between a person and the vast expanse that is the Open Web. Better yet: to be the conduit through which anyone projects herself on to the web, or reaches into the digital void to do something.
So if you were going to design a new browser, how would you handle the enormity of that responsibility? How would you seize the monument of that opportunity and create something great?
Well, for starters, you’d probably want to think about that first run experience — what it’s like to get behind the wheel for the very time with a newly minted driver’s permit — with the daunting realization that you can now go anywhere you please…! Which is of course awesome, until you realize that you have no idea where to go first!
Historically, the solution has been to flip-flop between portals and search boxes, and if we’ve learned anything from Google’s shockingly austere homepage, it comes down to recognizing that the first step of getting somewhere is expressing some notion of where you want to go:
The problem is that the location field has, up until recently, been fairly inert and useless. With Spotlight-influenced interfaces creeping into the browser (like David Watanabe’s recently acquired Inquisitor Safari plugin — now powered by Yahoo! Search BOSS — or the flyout in Flock that was inspired by it) it’s clear that browsers can and should provide more direction and assistance to get people going. Not everyone’s got a penchant for remembering URLs (or RFCs) like Tantek’s.
This kind of predictive interface, however, has only slowly made its way into the location bar, like fish being washed ashore and gradually sprouting legs. Eventually they’ll learn to walk and breath normally, but until then, things might look a little awkward. But yes, dear reader, things do change.
So you can imagine, having recognized this trend, Google went ahead and combined the search box and the location field in Chrome and is now pushing the location bar as the starting place, as well as where to do your searching:
This change to such a fundamental piece of real estate in the browser has profound consequences on both the typical use of the browser as well as security models that treat the visibility of the URL bar as sacrosanct (read: phishing):
The URL bar is dead! Long live the URL bar!
While cats like us know intuitively how to use the location bar in combination with URLs to gets us to where to we want to go, that practice is now outmoded. Instead we type anything into the “box” and have some likely chance that we’re going to end up close to something interesting. Feeling lucky?
But there’s something else behind all this that I think is super important to realize… and that’s that our fundamental notions and expectations of privacy on the web have to change or will be changed for us. Either we do without tools that augment our cognitive faculties or we embrace them, and in so doing, shim open a window on our behaviors and our habits so that computers, computing environments and web service agents can become more predictive and responsive to them, and in so doing, serve us better. So it goes.
5. Use of the Services by you
5.1 In order to access certain Services, you may be required to provide information about yourself (such as identification or contact details) as part of the registration process for the Service, or as part of your continued use of the Services. You agree that any registration information you give to Google will always be accurate, correct and up to date.
. . .
12. Software updates
12.1 The Software which you use may automatically download and install updates from time to time from Google. These updates are designed to improve, enhance and further develop the Services and may take the form of bug fixes, enhanced functions, new software modules and completely new versions. You agree to receive such updates (and permit Google to deliver these to you) as part of your use of the Services.
It’s not that any of this is unexpected or Draconian: it is what it is, if it weren’t like this already.
Each of us will eventually need to choose a data brokers or two in the future and agree to similar terms and conditions, just like we’ve done with banks and credit card providers; and if we haven’t already, just as we have as we’ve done in embracing webmail.
Hopefully visibility into Chrome’s source code will help keep things honest, and also provide the means to excise those features, or to redirect them to brokers or service providers of our choosing, but it’s inevitable that effective cloud computing will increasingly require more data from and about us than we’ve previously felt comfortable giving. And the crazy thing is that a great number of us (yes, including me!) will give it. Willingly. And eagerly.
But think one more second about the ramifications (see Matt Cutts) of Section 12 up there about Software Updates: by using Chrome, you agree to allow Google to update the browser. That’s it: end of story. You want to turn it off? Disconnect from the web… in the process, rendering Chrome nothing more than, well, chrome (pun intended).
Welcome to cloud computing. The future has arrived and is arriving.
I wrote this this morning in a notebook as a follow up to my post yesterday… and since I don’t have time to clean it up now, I thought I’d present in raw, non-sensible form. Maybe there’s some value in a rough draft:
It’s like giving our money to a bank and having them turn around and sell our data to try to upsell us on loans and all kind of … oh wait, but the key difference is if we do get fed up, we can take our money out and go elsewhere, depriving the bank the ability to both target us with their partners’ ads and the ability to compound interest on our savings.
We need data brokers introduced into the system — organizations who are like safety deposit receptacles for our data — and who speak all APIs and actually advocate on our behalves for better service based on how “valuable” we are — this is necessary to top the scales in our favor — to reintroduce a balancing force into the marketplace because right now the choice to leave means dissing our friends — but if I’m not satisfied but still want to t talk to my friends, why can’t I be on the outside, but sending messages in? hell I’m willing to pay — in momentary access to my brokered personal profile — for access to my friends inside the silo. This is what Facebook is doing by shutting down so many accounts — it’s not personal — it’s protecting its business. They don’t want to become a myspace cesspool, succumb to empty profiles and Gresham’s Law — overrun with spam profiles and leeches and worthless profile data — a barren wasteland for advertisers who want to connect with that 8% of their customers who make up 32% of their revenue.
No it’s in data fidelity, richness, ironically FB took it upon themselves to weed out the bad from the good in their system-wide sweeps. Unfortunately they got it wrong a bunch of times. If Facebook allowed the export of data and became a data broker for its users — provided some citizen agency to its customers — there would be economic — as well as social — benefits to maintaining a clean and rich profile — beyond just expressiveness to one’s friends. For better or worse, FB users have a lot of benefit through the siloed apps of that F8 platform — but the grand vision should be closer to what Google’s marketing department christened “OpenSocial”… still though , the roles of banker and broker have yet to be made explicit and so we’ve leapt to “data portability” for nerds, forgetting that most people 1) don’t care about this stuff 2) are happy to exchange their data for services as long as their friends are doing it too 3) don’t want to be burdened with becoming their own libertarian banker! Dave Winer might want to keep everything in an XML file on his desktop, but I know few others who, IRL, feel the same way.
Thus concludes my rough notes.
So, if Facebook were perceived as a big Data Bank in the sky, how would that change things? Would people demand the ability to “withdraw” their data? Does the metaphor confuse or clarify? In any case, what is the role of data banks and data brokers? Is there a difference if the data container leverages the data for their own benefit? If they sell advertising and don’t provide a clear or universal means to opt-out? And what’s in the way of making more “benevolent” data vaults a reality — or how do we at least bring the concept into the discussion?
I have no personal interest the concept, only that’s a viable alternative to the siloed approach is missing from the discussion. And going back to the business models of OpenID and other identity providers… well, if any, that’s it. It’s like having a credit card with access to no credit — what’s the point? And OpenID becomes more valuable the more data capital it has access to. Or something like that.
Oh, and I’d like to quote something poignant that Anders Conbere said to me today in chat:
I was talking with my friend the other day and I tried to explain to him, that what I fear about facebook that I don’t fear about pretty much any other vendor is it’s continued developement as a competing platform to the web. a locked in, proprietary version and what I see, is just like Microsoft leveraged Windows as a “platform for application developement” facebook is doing that for web developement. what it offers developers is the simplicity and security of a stable developement environment at the cost of inovation because as we’ve seen, as market share grows, the ability to inovate decreases (since your success is tied to the backwards compatibility of your platform) and I see the possibility of facebook becoming a dominant platform for web application developement which will in turn lead to two decades of stagnation
So yeah, put that in your bonnet and smoke it. Or whatever.
This one should be a quickie.
A fascinating article came out of CNN today: “Intelligence deputy to America: Rethink privacy“.
This is a topic I’ve had opinions about for some time. My somewhat pessimistic view is that privacy is an illusion, and that more and more historic vestiges of so-called privacy are slipping through our fingers with the advent of increasingly ubiquitous and promiscuous technologies, the results of which are not all necessarily bad (take a look at just how captivating the Facebook Newsfeed is!).
Still, the more reading I’ve been doing lately about international issues and conflict, the more I agree with Danny Weitzner that there needs to be a robust dialogue about what it means to live in a post-privacy era, and what demands we must place on those companies, governments and institutions that store data about us, about the habits to which we’re prone and about the friends we keep. He sums up the conversation space thus:
Privacy is not lost simply because people find these services useful and start sharing location. Privacy could be lost if we don’t start to figure what the rules are for how this sort of location data can be used. We’ve got to make progress in two areas:
- technical: how can users sharing and usage preferences be easily communicated to and acted upon by others? Suppose I share my location with a friend by don’t want my employer to know it. What happens when my friend, intentionally or accidentally shares a social location map with my employer or with the public at large? How would my friend know that this is contrary to the way I want my location data used? What sorts of technologies and standards are needed to allow location data to be freely shared while respective users usage limitation requirements?
- legal: what sort of limits ought there to be on the use of location data?
- can employers require employees to disclose real time location data?
- is there any difference between real-time and historical location data traces? (I doubt it)
- under what conditions can the government get location data?
There’s clearly a lot to think about with these new services. I hope that we can approach this from the perspective that lots of location data will being flowing around and realize the the big challenge is to develop social, technical and legal tools to be sure that it is not misused.
I want to bring some attention to his first point about the technical issues surrounding New Privacy. This is the realm where we play, and this is the realm where we have the most to offer. This is also an area that’s the most contentious and in need of aggressive policies and leadership, because the old investment model that treats silos of data as gold mines has to end.
I think Tim O’Reilly is really talking about this when he lambasts Google’s OpenSocial, proclaiming, “It’s the data, stupid!” The problem of course is what open data actually means in the context of user control and ownership, in terms of “licensing” and in terms of proliferation. These are not new problems for technologists as permissioning dates back to the earliest operating systems, but the problem becomes infinitely complex now that it’s been unbounded and non-technologists are starting to realize a) how many groups have been collecting data about them and b) how much collusion is going on to analyze said data. (Yeah, those discounts that that Safeway card gets you make a lot more money for Safeway than they save you, you better believe it!)
With Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, taking an equally pessimistic (or Apocalyptic) attitude about privacy, I think there needs to be a broader, eyes-wide-open look at who has what data about whom and what they’re doing about — and perhaps more importantly — how the people about whom the data is being collected can get in on the game and get access to this data in the same way you’re guaranteed access and the ability to dispute your credit report. The same thing should be true for web services, the government and anyone else who’s been monitoring you, even if you’ve been sharing that information with them willingly. In another post, I talked about the value of this data — calling it “Data Capital“. People need to realize the massive amount of value that their data adds to the bottom line of so many major corporations (not to mention Web 2.0 startups!) and demand ongoing and persistent access to it. Hell, it might even result in better or more accurate data being stored in these mega-databases!
Regardless, when representatives from the government start to say things like:
Those two generations younger than we are have a very different idea of what is essential privacy, what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs. And so, it’s not for us to inflict one size fits all,said Kerr, 68.Protecting anonymity isn’t a fight that can be won. Anyone that’s typed in their name on Google understands that.
Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety,Kerr said.I think all of us have to really take stock of what we already are willing to give up, in terms of anonymity, but [also] what safeguards we want in place to be sure that giving that doesn’t empty our bank account or do something equally bad elsewhere.
…you know that it’s time we started framing the debate on our own terms… thinking about what this means to the Citizen Centric Web and about how we want to become the gatekeepers for the data that is both rightfully ours and that should willfully be put into the service of our own needs and priorities.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to present to you two exhibits.
Now, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how the latter is a more accurate or more appropriate title for the article, which is ostensibly about Google’ acquisition of Jaiku.
But, for some reason, the editor of the NY Times piece decided that it would — what? — sell more papers? — to use a more incendiary and moreover misleading headline for the story.
Here’s why I take issue: I’m quoted in the article. And here’s where the difference is made. This is how the how the article ends:
“To date, many people still maintain their illusion of privacy,” he said in an e-mail message.
Adapting will take time.
“For iPhone users who use the Google Maps application, it’s already a pain to have to type in your current location,” he said. “‘Why doesn’t my phone just tell Google where I am?’ you invariably ask.”
When the time is right and frustrations like this are unpalatable enough, Mr. Messina said, “Google will have a ready answer to the problem.”
Consider the effect of reading that passage after being lead with a headline like “Google’s Purchase of Jaiku Raises New Privacy Issues” versus “Will Google take the mobile world of Jaiku onto the Web?” The latter clearly raises the specter of Google-as-Big-Brother while ignoring the fallacy that privacy, as people seem to understand it, continues to exist. Let’s face it: if you’re using a cell phone, the cell phone company knows where you are. It’s just a matter of time before you get an interface to that data and the illusion that somehow you gave Google (or any other third party) access to your whereabouts.
I for one do not understand how this kind of headline elevates or adds to the discourse, or how it helps people to better understand and come to gripes with the changing role and utility of their presence online. While I do like the notion that any well-engineered system can preserve one’s privacy while still being effective, I contend that it’s going to take a radical reinterpretation of what we think is and isn’t private to feel secure in who can and can’t see data about us.
So, to put it simply, there are no “new” privacy issues raised by Google’s acquisition of Jaiku; it’s simply the same old ones over and over again that we seem unable to deal with in any kind of open dialogue in the mainstream press.
Wikipedia states that
Legal tender … is payment that, by law, cannot be refused in settlement of a debt denominated in the same currency. Currency, in turn,
is a unit of exchange, facilitating the transfer of goods and/or services.
I was asked a question earlier today about the relative value of open services against open data served in open, non-proprietary data formats. It got me thinking whether — in the pursuit of utter openness in web services and portability in stored data — that’s the right question. Are we providing the right incentives for people and companies to go open? Is it self-fulfilling or manifest destiny to arrive at a state of universal identity and service portability leading to unfettered consumer choice? Is this how we achieve VRM nirvana, or is there something missing in our assumptions and current analysis?
Mary Jo Foley touched on this topic today in a post called Are all ‘open’ Web platforms created equal? She asks the question whether Microsoft’s PC-driven worldview can be modernized to compete in the network-centric world of Web 2.0 where no single player dominates but rather
is made up of Best of Breed APIs/services from across the Web. The question she alludes to is a poignant one: even if you go open (and Microsoft has, by any estimation), will anyone care? Even if you dress up your data and jump through hoops to please developers, will they actually take advantage of what you have to offer? Or is there something else to the equation that we’re missing? Some underlying truism that is simply refracting falsely in light of the newfound sexiness of “going open”?
We often tell our clients that one of the first things you can do to “open up” is build out an API, support microformats, adopt OpenID and OAuth. But that’s just the start. That’s just good data hygiene. That’s brushing your teeth once a day. That’s making sure your teeth don’t fall out of your head.
There’s a broader method to this madness, but unfortunately, it’s a rare opportunity when we actually get beyond just brushing our teeth to really getting to sink them in, going beyond remedial steps like adding microformats to web pages to crafting just-in-time, distributed open-data-driven web applications that actually do stuff and make things better. But as I said, it’s a rare occasion for us because we’ve all been asking the wrong questions, providing the wrong incentives and designing solutions from the perspective of the silos instead of from the perspective of the people.
Let me make a point here: if your data were legal tender, you could take it anywhere with you and it couldn’t be refused if you offered to pay with it.
Let me break that down a bit. The way things are today, we give away our data freely and frequently, in exchange for the use of certain services. Now, in some cases, like Pandora or Last.fm, the use of the service itself is compelling and worthwhile, providing an equal or greater exchange rate for our behavior or taste data. In many other cases, we sign up for a service and provide basic demographic data without any sense of what we’re going to get in return, often leaving scraps of ourselves to fester all across the internet. Why do we value this data so little? Why do we give it away so freely?
I learned of an interesting concept today while researching legal tender called “Gresham’s Law” and
commonly stated as: When there is a legal tender currency, bad money drives good money out of circulation.
Don’t worry, it took me a while to get it too. Nicolas Nelson offered the following clarification:
if high quality and low quality are forced to be treated equally, then folks will keep good quality things to themselves and use low quality things to exchange for more good stuff.
Think about this in terms of data: if people are forced (or tricked) into thinking that the data that they enter into web applications is not being valued (or protected) by the sites that collect the data, well, eventually they’ll either stop entering the data (heard of social network fatigue?) or they’ll start filling them with bogus information, leading to “bad data” driving out the “good data” from the system, ultimately leading to a kind of data inflation, where suddenly the problem is no longer getting people to just sign up for your service, but to also provide good data of some value. And this is where data portability — or data as legal tender — starts to become interesting and allows us to start seeing around through the distortion of the refraction.
Think: Data as currency. Data to unlock services. Data owned, controlled, exchanged and traded by the creator of said data, instead of by the networks he has joined. For the current glut of web applications to maintain and be sustained, we must move to a system where people are in charge of their data, where they garden and maintain it, and where they are free to deposit and withdraw it from web services like people do money from banks.
If you want to think about what comes next — what the proverbial “Web 3.0” is all about — it’s not just about a bunch of web applications hooked up with protocols like OAuth that speak in microformats and other open data tongue back and forth to each other. That’s the obvious part. The change comes when a person is in control of her data, and when the services that she uses firmly believe that she not only has a right to do as she pleases with her data, but that it is in their best interest to spit her data out in whatever myriad format she demands and to whichever myriad services she wishes.
The “data web” is still a number of years off, but it is rapidly approaching. It does require that the silos popular today open up and transition from repositories to transactional enterprises. Once data becomes a kind of common tender, you no longer need to lock it; in fact, the value comes from its reuse and circulation in commerce.
To some degree, Mint and Wesabe are doing this retroactively for your banking records, allowing you to add “data value” to the your monetary transactions. Next up Google and Microsoft will do this for your health records. For a more generic example, Swivel is doing this today for the OECD but has a private edition coming soon. Slife/Slifeshare, i use this and RescueTime do this for your use of desktop apps.
This isn’t just attention data that I’m talking about (though the recent announcements in support of APML are certainly positive). This goes beyond monitoring what you’re doing and how you’re spending your time. I’m talking about access to all the data that it would take to reconstitute your entire digital existence. And then I’m talking about the ability to slice, dice, and splice it however you like, in pursuit of whatever ends you choose. Or choose not to.
I’ll point to a few references that influenced my thinking: Social Capital To Show Its Worth at This Week’s Web 2.0 Summit, What is Web 2.0?, Tangled Up in the Future – Lessig and Lietaer, , Intentional Economics Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.
I just started, and canned, an unruly post that was meandering and preventing me from articulating a vision of Big Sister. I can’t say that this post will be more coherent than the last, but I’ll give it a shot.
And so it goes.
Continue reading “Contemplating Big Sister”
Before the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web, there were various efforts at establishing clear policies or practices related to the ownership, scope and providence of so-called user data. While I can’t name them all, I might cite P3P, The Cyberspace Charter of Rights, the DigitalConsumer’s Bill of Rights and then Attention Trust afterwards. This is clearly not a new problem, but it has gained renewed prominence owing to the wide adoption and popularity of social networks.
As such, I want applaud the authors’ effort on pulling this together in a timely fashion, and offering it up to the world to discuss, improve upon, and ultimately see to its implementation.