Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why "Web 2.0": Zero Expectation of Privacy

Privacy in the world of "Web 2.0" is like a diet pizza... What? You've never heard of a diet pizza? Exactly my point.

Seriously though folks, let's think about this seriously. The main components of the "Web 2.0 experience" are... (in order of importance)
  1. personalized
  2. highly interactive
  3. feature-rich
It's simply impossible to have content that's personalized yet anonymous. Can't be done.

So here we go, let the debate ensue - I'm telling you right now though, you can't have the type of tailored content you're looking for on your iPhone, desktop or refrigerator without giving away some information about yourself. Let me explain why.

The personalized browsing experience is all about collecting data about you such as where you visit, how long you stay, what you read and what you buy and mining it along with millions of other people's data to create content that appears specific to you. You simply can't decouple the what from the who... as technology continues to tie seemingly irrelevant things together in searchable databases every bit of information about you can be personal.

Your IP address isn't necessarily a "private" piece of data when it comes to your identity... or is it? Five years ago if someone was logging IP addresses and site preferences it wouldn't mean anything... today that data can be tied to a specific user (yes, even if you're sitting at a coffee shop in Chattanooga), so now it's starting to get contentious about whether that's private information or not!

Think about it!

You want to see only what you find relevant... but how do you do that without allowing some system somewhere to keep track of everything you view/do to make sure that system then can turn that data into a presentation of relevance to you? Can't be done. Want proof? Turn OFF cookies in your browser. Try it now... and see how many sites complain and simply give you a terrible experience!

Furthermore... look at the cookies in your browser cache... do you recognize all of them? Simply going to Google's homepage drops a whopping 33 cookies on your browser. A simple browse to Buy.com's homepage brings in cookies from Buy.com, apmebf.com, mediaplex.com... all of which are tracking your habits and clicks so they can personalize your Buy.com experience... right?

Let's assume you're using FireFox, even as a secondary browser, go to the add-ons site and do a very simple search for "cookie"... look at the amount of tools that are dedicated to monitoring, deleting, opting-out-of, and manipulating cookies! It's enough to make your head spin. I highly suggest FireCookie (FireBug add-on) for FireFox... it's an eye-opener!

Moving beyond the idea of cookies... there are many, many ways companies keep track of you! Have you ever gone to a site and gotten you've never been to before only to be served up an ad for a "local" service or product? How do they know where you live? Either you've given someone, somewhere that information and it's been passed along, or they've geo-located your IP address, or your browser simply told the site it's location... pretty scary?

Let's face it, privacy is a dying thing. We fight every day to keep our habits and clicks private but let's face it, we lost that battle with credit cards and automated tollway transponders... so it's only logical we lose that battle of privacy online.


Anonymous said...

Agree with you.

Now the question is/are: What is/are/will be the problem(s) of the "zero online privacy"?

I once found an interesting article that explained that privacy exists because of the benefits it brings to the society. In other words, it was saying that society allows privacy because it believe that by doing so it will gain more benefits than drawbacks (eg: people secretly organizing crimes,....). It was quite interesting.

Too bad, I don't exactly remember the alleged benefits nor can I found the article back :(


Ben said...

I still maintain that this is an outdated way of thinking about privacy. Just because data about me is available, or just because I make data available, does not mean that I have authorized others - implicitly or explicitly - to use that data. See my post "The New School of Privacy" for what I mean: