The blogosphere is abuzz once again with privacy concerns. This morning the New York Times published an article entitled “You’re Leaving a Digital Trail. What About Privacy?” highlighting a number of businesses that utilize anonymous customer data in order to make more effective decisions. And while it’s made clear that the data is indeed anonymous and can’t be abused, online chatter about the lack of privacy in our lives is pervasive.
Allen Stern, editor of business blog CenterNetworks, chose to focus on Google specifically and the sheer amount of data they have about each and everyone of us on the web via its many services. A recent headline at Slashdot.org reads “Reality Mining Resets the Privacy Debate“. And, no surprise here, the headline also hit Techmeme.
While privacy is a legitimate concern in our internet age, it continues to frustrate me. First of all, the data companies like Google compile about us is never data about US. It’s simply an addition to the grouped data of a segment of users like us. In a recent conversation with Greg Skibiski, CEO of Sense Networks, the maker of the upcoming CitySense iPhone app, he made this clear (he’s quoted in the Times article). And he should know. The company’s MacroSense platform is built specifically for sorting through and making sense of data about us (you can read more about this conversation in an article I wrote for VentureBeat). Sense Networks sorts through data about us from major wireless carriers, but it’s sorted into groups of users with similar specifications, if you will. Nothing is directly correlated to an actual person.
It’s also a concern that stands in the way of mainstream location-based service and application adoption. Not everyone wants to be found at all times. In the end though, the data that everyone’s so concerned about is used to make products and services better, likely contributing to more dollars flowing through our troubled economy. Do you really think Sergey Brin is going to phone up your spouse and let him or her know you’re addicted to porn?
I think the solution to the whole privacy discussion is simple. Data about you is everywhere. If it makes you uncomfortable, consider quitting your job, cutting up your credit cards, ditching the cellphone and cable subscriptions, curling up under a rock, and never entering the wild world of WWW again. And if you do, opt-out and shut up.
(Image Credit: mushon)