Privacy Manifesto for Web 2.0

As everyone pours their personal lives into Facebook et al, what happens to it? Some companies reckon they own it all. Others reckon they can change the rules at any time, and just tell you afterwards.

Alec Saunders has proposed a Privacy Manifesto for the Web 2.0 Era (and you can follow that link for some discussion of the why):

  1. Every customer has the right to know what private information is being collected. That rules out any secret data collection schemes, as well as monitoring regimes that the customer hasn’t agreed to in advance. It also rules out any advertising scheme that relies on leaving cookies on a customer’s hard disk without the customer’s consent.
  2. Every customer has the right to know the purpose for which the data is being collected, in advance. Corporations must spell out their intent, in advance, and not deviate from that intent. Reasonable limits must be imposed on the collection of personal information that are consistent with the purpose for which it is being collected. Furthermore, the common practice of inserting language into privacy policies stating that the terms may be modified without notice should be banned. If the corporation collecting data wishes to change its policy then it’s incumbent upon the corporation to obtain the consent of customers in advance.
  3. Each customer owns his or her personal information. Corporations may not sell that information to others without the customer’s consent. Customers may ask, at any time, to review the personal information collected; to have the information corrected, if that information is in error; and to have the information removed from the corporation’s database.
  4. Customers have a right to expect that those collecting their personal information will store it securely. Employees and other individuals who have access to that data must treat it with the same level of care as the organization collecting it is expected to.

Hat tip to Peter Black.

Predictions for 2008

OK, I’m meant to be clever, so here are my predictions for 2008. The Snarky Platypus didn’t help me with these, as we decided we had better things to do on New Year’s Eve (gin and tonic, for example). So blame me alone.

  1. The Joy of Chairman Rudd’s Iced VoVo Revolution will be dulled by the end of January when they take some stupid actions which demonstrate that they are, after all, politicians like all others. Actually, this has already happened with the announcement of mandatory Internet filtering by ISPs. I’ll write more about that soon.
  2. At least one member of the (former) Howard cabinet will be charged with a criminal offence over something they did in office. I’d like it to be Brendan Nelson, because that deal to buy $6 billion worth of Super Hornet fighter aircraft stinks — mostly because the air force doesn’t want them and the process was, erm, rushed to say the least. However I suspect it might be something to do with the AWB scandal.
  3. Channel 7 will continue to win the Australian TV ratings. Channel 9 will fail to reinvent itself now that its owned by an investment vehicle and not a media proprietor.
  4. Telstra will be forced to separate its wholesale and retail businesses. Meanwhile the Sol Trujillo-led management team will continue to play nasty with the government, causing them to be increasingly sidelined — especially over the Rudd government’s new broadband rollout.
  5. Barack Obama will win the US Presidential election. I know Hillary Clinton is currently the favourite, but I have the gut feeling that the Oprah factor will be important, and that Hillary’s dirty washing will be aired.
  6. When former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra returns from self-imposed exile on 14 February the new government, which is a coalition led by a Thaksin-supporting party, will somehow drop the corruption charges against him. Another military coup will follow.
  7. At least one Australian company will suffer a major leak of its customers’ private data, prompting new laws on dealing with such things (like they already have in California).
  8. We’ll finally figure out what the Storm Botnet, the world’s largest network of hacked computers, is for. My guess: whatever the hell the designer’s paying clients want it to be for.

You might also like to read the interesting predictions from The Australian (not really predictions, but obvious events following on from their news calendar), advertising agency JWT, Peter Black and Rachel Polanskis, and predictions about toy names for 2008.

What are your predictions for 2008? And how do you think mine rate?

Stilgherrian Simpsonsized

Stilgherrian as a Simpsons character

’Pong and I have just let The Simpsons Movie and Burger King absorb an hour of our valuable attention in exchange for turning us into yellow-skinned characters. Simpsonize Me is a promotional tool for the film, but one which gives you a toy to play with — the ability to turn your photos into characters from The Simpsons — in exchange for a bit of brand reinforcement.

I reckon this is how “interactive advertising” has to work. A fair exchange of value. As opposed to Audi’s over-produced self-indulgent wank, where they get your psychometric profile and you get — well, nothing.

The question now, of course: How good a match for me is the character I’ve made? Comments?

Oops, there goes privacy! So now what?

Most of the more enthusiastic web developers worry me. In their wild-eyed enthusiasm for the latest, coolest technology they seem almost oblivious to wider or longer-term implications. Nick Bradbury, creator of FeedDemon, a popular RSS reader for Windows, had an interesting take on this recently.

Back in 2004, I asked: “What are we actually building here? A lot of people in my profession wear rose-colored glasses and believe we’re helping to make information free to the world, but some of the early proponents of television believed the same thing. Are we really just building the next version of TV, one even more powerful because it knows your name and shopping habits?”

I thought I was being cynical then, but now I’m not so sure. Google continues to carve out a huge share of the Internet advertising market, in large part by figuring out what we’re paying attention to. The quality of the content doesn’t really matter to them — only the number of eyeballs they can advertise to does. Sounds a lot like commercial TV, doesn’t it?

So far, has the Web been better than TV, or just more targeted? And is it really worth giving up so much privacy in order to get it?

One of the biggest changes facing society right now is a massive loss of individual privacy. And one of the best introductions to the issues is Simson Garfinkel’s book Database Nation.

Garfinkel is a leading researcher in computer forensics, so he’s well aware that “privacy on the Internet” isn’t really about your email address being used to send you spam — despite that being the focus of most website privacy statements.

As he says in Database Nation:

To understand privacy in [the 21st century] we need to rethink what privacy really means today:

  • It’s not about the man who wants to watch pornography in complete anonymity over the Internet. It’s about the woman who’s afraid to use the Internet to organise her community against a proposed toxic dump — afraid because the dump’s investors are sure to dig through her past if she becomes too much of a nuisance.
  • It’s not about people speeding on the nation’s highways who get automatically generated tickets mailed to them thanks to a computerised speed trap. It’s about lovers who will take less joy in walking around city streets or visiting stores because they know they’re being photographed by surveillance cameras everywhere they step.
  • It’s not about the special prosecutors who leave no stone unturned in their search for corruption of political misdeeds. It’s about the good, upstanding citizens who are now refusing to enter public service because they don’t want a bloodthirsty press rummaging through their old school reports, computerised medical records and email.
  • It’s not about the searches, metal detectors and inquisitions that have become a routine part of our daily lives at airports, schools and federal buildings. It’s about a society that views law-abiding citizens as potential terrorists, yet does little to effectively protect its citizens from real threats to their safety.

Actually, you could argue that privacy has already been lost — we just don’t realise it yet.

It’s now impossible to drive anonymously across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Every mobile phone is a tracking device. Every web page you look at is logged by your Internet service provider. And a generation is recording every little detail of their lives in LiveJournal or MySpace or Facebook or whatever social media website will make all those look so last week.

My take on this?

Society will have to come to terms with the fact that everyone has skeletons in the cupboardthat joint they smoked, for instance. Roughly 1 in 7 of the men listed on birth certificates isn’t actually the father — but now routine DNA screening for diseases is uncovering uncomfortable bedroom secrets.

Many “bad” things are really quite common — they’re just not talked about. Our private worlds remain private. Or at least they used to.

We’ll have to get used to the idea that politicians, teachers, bus drivers — whoever! — are all flawed humans. We can’t ban those who smoked a joint or has “a history of mental illness” (depression affects 800,000 Australian adults a year) or committed a crime (copyright infringement is now a crime, you know) or there’ll be no-one left!

So long-term we might get a more tolerant society, with a more reality-based view of the world.

However in the shorter term I can see a decrease in tolerance. As new technologies reveal more of our hidden private worlds, people will be shocked to discover “all these criminals” and so on, and there’ll be a crackdown.

It could be an uncomfortable few decades.