On Bringing Manners to Markets

Privacy in the physical world has been well understood and fairly non-controversial for thousands of years. We get it, for example, with clothing, doors, curtains and window shades. These each provide privacy by design, because they control visibility and access to our private places and spaces.

The virtual world, however, is very young, dating roughly back to 1995, when the first graphical browsers and ISPs came along. Thus, on the scale of civilization’s evolution, the Net is not only brand new, but in its infancy (the stage in life when it’s okay to go naked and pee and crap all over the place.) On the Net today, manners are almost completely absent. We see this, in a strange and mundane way, in corporate and government obsessions with gathering Big Data from consumers and citizens, mostly without their knowledge or conscious permission.

Companies today are moving budget to the Chief Marketing Officer (a title that didn’t exist a decade ago), so she or he can hire IBM, or SAP or some other BigCo to paint million-point portraits of people, with a palette of pixels harvested by surveillance, all so they can throw better marketing guesswork at them.

This isn’t new in marketing. It’s just an old practice (data-fed junk mail) that has fattened on Big Data and Big Fantasy. As a result we’re all drowning in guesswork, most of which is off the mark, no matter how well-understood we might be by the Big Data mills of the world.

Normally we would look to government to help us comprehend, guide and control infrastructures on which we utterly depend. (e.g. electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment, roads and bridges). But no one entity, including government, can begin to comprehend, much less monitor and regulate, the wild and wooly thing the Net has become (even at its lower layers), especially when so much of what we do with it depends on inside giant black or near-black boxes (Google, Facebook, Twitter, et. al.). But, thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that the U.S. government itself — via the NSA and who knows what else — is doing the same thing, and also muscling private sector companies to cooperate with them.

But that’s a problem endemic to what Gore Vidal called the “national security state”, and plain old market forces won’t have much influence on it. Democratic and political ones will, but they’re not on the table here.

At Customer Commons, our table is the marketplace, and our role in it as customers. Whatever else we do, it can’t hurt to recognize and expose practices that are just plain rude.