Thursday, January 27, 2011

Privacy, permission and concern for the individual versus concern for the network

Data, published conversations, recordings of what we say to each other, call it what you will, ownership of what you publish online has long been fraught with complexity.

Traditional media companies kept it simple when they went online. They got you to agree that everything you publish on their site is theirs to reuse as they wish. They did it at sign up.

They've got a little greedy about this if most print news publications are anything to go by. From their repeated sourcing of quotes and stories from the likes of Twitter it appears they feel they can reuse pretty much anything you publish online.

They haven't sought your permission.

Neither do those companies who spider the web to gather and index what you say. Google, for example. And, of course the wide range of alternative search and social media monitoring tools.

Publish to the web and your default state is that your data is discoverable and can be reused for profit and gain by, well, anyone.

That's a truth. And it's one rarely considered.

Now, if you don't like that truth, you can opt out. You could set twitter to locked, Facebook to absolute private, tell google not to index your blog etc. Or just publish nothing online at all.

These are all options. And they are all actually more about permissions than privacy.

For example, let's imagine that when you sign up to use the web (at all, anywhere) you get the option to set your permissions.

Would you set yours at 'allow my data to be used by companies for gain'? That's effectively the default in the age of social media monitoring. If your data is discoverable it is discoverable by all. On or off.

If you're 'on' monitoring technologies can pick up what you say. There's nothing CIA about that. You can do exactly the same with some patience and a search engine. They can only track open conversations.

Then nice people like my company (90:10group) will slice, dice, analyse and interpret. And if the nice people we work with take the appropriate action and make change based on what they hear then you get better things, things that you cared enough about to want to publish to the web about. (This, by the way, is just part of what 90:10Group does, but it's the part that is relevant in this conversation).

Four groups just gained from your data:

The monitoring tool makers.

Companies like mine: which turn the data (your conversations) into something that can drive change - one to the benefit of both producer and customer.

The producer: Who gets to make a more efficient fit with the expressed needs of their customer.

You. You just improved something you care about.

But should we have asked your permission before we began the search?

My good friend Jonathan Macdonald believes so. And he makes his case very well himself so I will simply link to that here.

I don't object to the provision of an opt-in to this kind of data collection. Many people do make choices already to opt out via the methods I described earlier. The concern is the current internet-wide default that you are opted in.
We could tackle this through a big new 'opt out' button, or education, or by the insight industries opting themselves out.

But for myself I won't be opting out.

When I choose to express my metadata in public (ie publish online) I do so with the intention of connecting with others who care about the same thing I do.

I do so to join with others who may be trying to solve the same issue as I am right now. I do so because together we make things better.

The problem is more important than the individual.

One extra connection (node) doubles the number of connections in a network. It doubles the value of the network.

Which means when I limit the spread of my metadata I'm limiting the connections all of us can make and the value of the network to all of us.

And I'm all for the network over the node.

So maybe what all this does come down to is concern for the individual vs concern for the network.

Tough choices to make. But these are the realities of the networked world.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone so I may have to tidy it up later ;-)

Enhanced by Zemanta

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?