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The Brewing Privacy Storm

By - December 14, 2009

We’re pushing it as an industry, I think. Google making all search personal and its leadership claiming privacy is for those with something to hide. Facebook pushing all data out into the world (and ticking off Danny, of all people). The advertising ecosystem leveraging more and more data, but not thinking hard enough about how that data is controlled. All of this is drawing the attention of major media and the folks who read it – IE, Congress.

We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

And we need to stop and take a breath before something happens we’ll all regret.

I’m heartened by all the privacy dashboards that Google, Yahoo, Facebook and others are creating and making available. But I think it’s time for us as an industry to really stop and think about this issue and address it. Because we can’t afford a conservative (and I mean that in the catholic sense of the word) backlash on this issue.

Just leaving a note here on this, as much to remind myself to spend time on this issue in the new year as anything…

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12 thoughts on “The Brewing Privacy Storm

  1. Moises Jafet says:

    The pointer here, in my opinion, signals to the entangling between the financial models driving the today’s Internet propellers and the personal data (behavioral patterns) of its users.
    If every single day more people sing up for an user account on Facebook in numbers higher than many world’s countries populations, then it is quite obvious that giants like the bespoke Facebook someday soon will exhibit more ‘citizens’ than a whole continent: personal data (in the form of an user ‘gustos’), in other words, power -I wonder- isn’t to be used/leveraged politically or financially?
    It is a matter of fact that people wont stop sharing their real personal lives online but to upscale this behavior up to a point to parallel its flesh existence to a virtual one (that make ours lives richer in some way indeed) and someone have to provide the infrastructure.
    Maybe an explorable option is to construct some kind of Internet’s United Nations in order to monitor/enforce proper data handling.

  2. My sense is that power will trump privacy. Google gets a lot of leverage from the information it collects from people’s behavior and data. That information gives it power; that power will continue to seduce it. Same for all the other players. It seems unavoidable, given the recent trends.

  3. Bertil says:

    What you seem to fear is something quite similar to what happened after 1968 in most of the Western world: many people did quite publicly things that they would not have dared to do before (at least publicly) and were ashamed afterwards: I don’t thing former War-protestors suffered so much. Apart for exceptional behavior (and sex & drugs & rock-and-roll won’t stand out) nothing really came out. Some people will suffer from it—but most won’t, and society won’t collapse.

    The positive consequence will be that people will have to make an educated choice about privacy, what they consider public and re-think all these questions. However painful (including for us experts who’ll have to spend lots of time explaining what is at stake) this shoul make the world a better place.

  4. too late …. the gate is open and the horse is already bolted.

  5. too late … the gate is open and the privacy horse everyone is riding is already bolted.

  6. Brock Meeks says:

    It’s not too late at all, Catherine. John’s right, the industry and those concerned about it have to do some deep thinking on this. There have been encouraging moves in the name of privacy, trouble is, for Internet users, many of them “feel” like some kind of digital slight-of-hand is being played out.

    We’ve launched a campaign to help Internet users become more activist when it comes to demanding better privacy tools, you can learn about here:

  7. Rick says:

    The only thing that bothers me with Facebook’s newest move is that they force us to go and change it back.

    I’m fine with them competeing with Twitter… I get it. But convince me to make my stuff public, don’t trick me.

  8. Sikiş Video says:

    John certainly I agree. Without ever missing one of the articles I watch, really. google, facebook and yahoo in fact as you mentioned are the institutions had a monopoly on the internet. New and original projects can be achieved with better results I think. You’re probably writing articles turns to follow. I hope you like the results.

  9. JG says:

    The only thing that bothers me with Facebook’s newest move is that they force us to go and change it back.

    Yeah, and how is that different from the way in which anyone else in the industry operates?

    First, Google for years has taken the “opt out” approach, meaning that they do whatever they want and it’s up to the afflicted (I mean, affected) party to explicitly tell Google to stop. It should really be the opposite way around: Opt-in. But it almost never is.

    Second, these companies have an ongoing habit of explicitly lying about their intentions and goals. Remember Google saying for years that it would not produce a browser? Remember Google saying that it was not working on a phone? Remember Apple/Steve Jobs saying that nobody would ever want to watch video on a small screen, right before releasing the video ipod? Remember Microsoft saying.. well.. where do I begin? You get the point. How true did all of those statements turn out to be?

    So when you combine this cavalier attitude toward opt-out with a history of actively and vocally saying the opposite of what is true, what are we as users supposed to think and feel when it comes to our privacy? How are we supposed to believe and trust these companies on privacy when they behave in such untrustworthy matters in all their other business dealings?

    I agree with Brock. It feels like a digital slight of hand is being pulled. Constantly. And by everyone. Even the ones that were supposed to be non-evil.

  10. bpitt says:

    Schmidt’s thinking is spot on, so …

    Let’s get EVERYONE to expose all of his data, post it everywhere on the Internet. This includes getting the paparazzi to follow him to his home, work; where he eats/drinks; who he talks to — everything he does and says gets recorded, posted and indexed (on Bing, not Google).

    He’s got nothing to hide so let’s make his life public on a competing cloud/search engine.

    Ready. Set. GO!

  11. mrg says:

    the real shitstorm is when the government – congress and various exec. branches (nsa?) down to your local Barney Fife – taps the data and tries to make use of it. It’s especially insidious because it could be underway already.

  12. David says:

    Speaking only from a brand POV and not about government, identity theft, etc., I think we continue to ask the wrong questions. As I wrote in 2001:

    “While we certainly need to protect privacy online, I think that we should be focusing our efforts on how can we bring a value to the consumer that translates into a better online experience? What will make the consumer feel as though everyone just called their name when they walked in? How can we create an experience where the owner comes out to greet each visitor and thanks them for being there, while pointing out that they know what the consumer likes?”

    No matter what we think, the truth is, we’re just not delivering the right value to consumers and that’s why privacy is once again becoming a hot-button issue. The consumer knows that they’re not getting anything of value for the information we ask of them. They know that right now, we’re the only ones who really benefit from the knowledge we gather.

    Until we change the focus from us to them, the privacy battle will continue. You can go to to read my full piece from 2001.