Those sneaky bastards

The Internet has exponentially increased people’s ability to interact, and to create and exchange value all around the world, and yet the full value of this ability is far from realized. An information and resource imbalance in the current online market is at the root of this issue. Overly restrictive, unfair legal practice is rife in online agreements, policies, and other legal constructs. Agreements that put one side at a disadvantage stifle innovation, and they burden and complicate the productive activities of both organizations and individuals. The extent of this imbalance and its consequences remains unrecognized by most digital citizens.

Creative Commons and Free/Open Source Software licenses represent early responses to these inequities. Arising in reaction to constraints in specific creative domains, they have unleashed a culture and economy of innovative online collaboration. The Electronic Frontier Foundation challenges public policy. Now we must focus on changing legal practice.

People don’t have lawyers in their living rooms.
In today’s climate, people need them.

It’s time to create new agreements, and to do this we need to go to first sources: people, commons and relationships. The solution begins by relating to a wide variety of people and ensuring their equal access to resources and information.

Contracts are by their very nature collaborative. They should exist to bolster the exchange of value within ongoing trust-based relationships. To build long-term relationships, symmetry between context and contract is necessary. The contract needs to be responsive to each unique situation. Relationships are not static templates, nor should legal agreements be.

We propose a not-for-profit organization for the creation and sustainment of a website and service that addresses these issues. In our vision, this collaborative venture will be critical and constructive, impartial and independent. It will take an active role in envisioning and implementing new, more balanced agreements. We’ve given it a working title of ThoseSneakyBastards.org. We believe this site will be the beginning of something much larger; we hope you will join us to build it.

With a unique brand of audacious humor Those Sneaky Bastards challenges the absurdity in online agreements, policies and other legal constructs that make us queasy when we click “I Accept”.

ThoseSneakyBastards.org will mercilessly roast the legal excesses of internet agreements and celebrate transparency and neutrality. It will employ punchy visuals to help people identify the risks in signing an agreement, and provide the ability to explore these risks in further detail. Think Rotten Tomatoes.

ThoseSneakyBastards.org is a place for members to explore new kinds of agreements: nimble, light, understandable legal instruments for peer-to-peer economic activity. We are promoting respect-based commerce with tools for entrepreneurial ‘customer rights-focused’ small businesses and individuals.

How about using the “No Track” button we already have?

left r-buttonright r-buttonFor as long as we’ve had economies, demand and supply have been attracted to each other like a pair of magnets. Ideally, they should match up evenly and produce good outcomes. But sometimes one side comes to dominate the other, with bad effects along with good ones. Such has been the case on the Web ever since it went commercial with the invention of the cookie in 1995, resulting in a calf-cow model in which the demand side — that’s you and me — plays the submissive role of mere “users,” who pretty much have to put up with whatever rules websites set on the supply side.

Consistent with Lord Acton’s axiom (“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”) the near absolute power of website cows over user calves has resulted in near-absolute corruption of website ethics in respect to personal privacy.

This has been a subject of productive obsession by Julia Anguin and her team of reporters at The Wall Street Journal, which have been producing the What They Know series (shortcut: http://wsj.com/wtk) since July 30, 2010, when Julia by-lined The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets. The next day I called that piece a turning point. And I still believe that.

Today came another one, again in the Journal, in Julia’s latest, titled Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button. She begins,

A coalition of Internet giants including Google Inc. has agreed to support a do-not-track button to be embedded in most Web browsers—a move that the industry had been resisting for more than a year.

The reversal is being announced as part of the White House’s call for Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights,” that will give people greater control over the personal data collected about them.

The long White House press release headline reads,

We Can’t Wait: Obama Administration Unveils Blueprint for a “Privacy Bill of Rights” to Protect Consumers Online

Internet Advertising Networks Announces Commitment to “Do-Not-Track” Technology to Allow Consumers to Control Online Tracking

Obviously, government and industry have been working together on this one. Which is good, as far as it goes. Toward that point, Julia adds,

The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.

The do-not-track button also wouldn’t block companies such as Facebook Inc. from tracking their members through “Like” buttons and other functions.

“It’s a good start,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But we want you to be able to not be tracked at all if you so choose.”

In the New York Times’ White House, Consumers in Mind, Offers Online Privacy Guidelines Edward Wyatt writes,

The framework for a new privacy code moves electronic commerce closer to a one-click, one-touch process by which users can tell Internet companies whether they want their online activity tracked.

Much remains to be done before consumers can click on a button in their Web browser to set their privacy standards. Congress will probably have to write legislation governing the collection and use of personal data, officials said, something that is unlikely to occur this year. And the companies that make browsers — Google, Microsoft, Apple and others — will have to agree to the new standards.

No they won’t. Buttons can be plug-ins to existing browsers. And work has already been done.VRM developers are on the case, and their ranks are growing. We have dozens of developers (at that last link) working on equipping both the demand and the supply side with tools for engaging as independent and respectful parties. In fact we already have a button that can say “Don’t track me,” plus much more — for both sides. Its calle the R-button, and it looks like this: ⊂ ⊃. (And yes, those symbols are real characters. Took a long time to find them, but they do exist.)

Yours — the user’s — is on the left. The website’s is on the right. On a browser it might look like this:

r-button in a browser

Underneath both those buttons can go many things, including preferences, policies, terms, offers, or anything else — on both sides. One of those terms can be “do not track me.” It might point to a fourth party (see explanations here and here) which, on behalf of the user or customer, maintains settings that control sharing of personal data, including the conditions that must be met. A number of development projects and companies are already on this case. Some have personal data stores (PDSes), also called “lockers” or “vaults.” These include:

Three of those are in the U.S., one in Austria, one in France, one in South Africa, and three in the U.K. (All helping drive the Midata project by the U.K. government, by the way.) And those are just companies with PDSes. There are many others working on allied technologies, standards, protocols and much more. They’re all just flying below media radar because media like to look at what big suppliers and governments are doing. Speaking of which… :-)

Here’s Julia again:

Google is expected to enable do-not-track in its Chrome Web browser by the end of this year.

Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of advertising at Google, said the company is pleased to join “a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘Do Not Track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls.”

White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Daniel Weitzner said the do-not-track option should clear up confusion among consumers who “think they are expressing a preference and it ends up, for a set of technical reasons, that they are not.”

Some critics said the industry’s move could throw a wrench in a separate year-long effort by the World Wide Web consortium to set an international standard for do-not-track. But Mr. Ingis said he hopes the consortium could “build off of” the industry’s approach.

So here’s an invitation to the White House, Google, the 3wC, interested BigCos (including CRM companies), developers of all sizes and journalists who are interested in building out genuine and cooperative relationships between demand and supply::::

Join us at IIW — the Internet Identity Workshop — in Mountain View, May 1-3. This is the unconference where developers and other helpful parties gather to talk things over and move development forward. No speakers, no panels, no BS. Just good conversation and productive work. It’s our fourteenth one, and they’ve all been highly productive.

As for the r-button, take it and run with it. It’s there for the development. It’s meaningful. We’re past square one. We’d love to have all the participation we can get, from the big guys as well as the little ones listed above and here.

To help get your thinking started, visit this presentation of one r-button scenario, by Adam Marcus of MIT. Here’s another view of the same work, which came of of a Google Summer of Code project through ProjectVRM and the Berkman Center:

(Props to Oshani Seneviratne and David Karger, also both of MIT, and Ahmad Bakhiet, of Kings College London, for work on that project.)

If we leave fixing the calf-cow problem entirely up to the BigCos and BigGov, it won’t get fixed. We have to work from the demand side as well. In economies, customers are the 100%.

Here are some other stories, mostly gathered by Zemanta:

All look at the symptoms, and supply-side cures. Time for the demand side to demand answers from itself. Fortunately, we’ve been listening, and the answers are coming.

Oh, and by the way, Mozilla has been offering “do not track” for a long time. Other tools are also available:

Toward a new symbiosis between demand and supply

I’m listening and watching with fascination to Keith Scovell‘s Shopper Power videos. In these Keith describes progress being made in a VRM direction by retailers and their upstream suppliers, detailing efforts made by Starbucks, Hallmark, CVS, Tesco/Homeplus, Frito-Lay, Reese’s and other companies — all recognizing that customers’ range of control over interactions in retail environments is increasing dramatically, and will increase a great deal more.

I haven’t watched all of Keith’s videos yet, but I’m taking notes as I do, and I recommend that others do the same, if they’re interested in how increasingly empowered and independent customers relate to vendors — especially at the retail level in the brick & mortar world. And how clueful vendors are working on better ways of interacting with those customers.

It’s interesting that Keith is coming from the CPG — Consumer Packaged Goods — industry, and not CRM, which is most commonly posed as the counterpart to VRM. Yet I think that CPG, and retailing in general, is the more direct counterpart of VRM. Talking about where the rubber meets the road here. Keith talks about market signals, which go in both directions. One purpose of VRM is to provide better means for signaling, as well as for engaging over the longer term.

Four things are important to point out as developers on both sides get acquainted:

  1. Customers will become more independent. That is, they will have their own ways of expressing demand, loyalty, brand preferences and terms of engagement. Many of today’s solutions on the vendors’ side — loyalty cards, for example — are both coercive and inconvenient, as customers are required to carry around many of these things, all with their own proprietary and silo’d systems. New tools and systems will emerge on the customer’s side to provide both independence and better means of engagement. And those tools and systems will be personal, not just social.
  2. VRM tools will not only provide or support that independence, but common means for engaging many vendors the same way. For example, they will provide ways for a customer to change his or her address one time for many vendors rather than many times for many vendors.
  3. The new market ecosystem will be symbiotic one between demand and supply. Not a coercive or competitive one. That means the best customers and the best vendors will be caring about each other and watching out for each others’ best interests. This will actually reduce need on the vendors’ side for discounts, coupons and other gimmicks, which often clutter and confuse an otherwise smooth relationship with customers, and which have other hard costs as well.
  4. New user interface elements will be required.

For that last two reasons I’ve flanked the text above between two r-buttons. Keith visits QR codes and other handy signaling devices already being used in the retail environment. But it’s still early, so we still lack are user interface (UI) elements that represent actions and states within relationships between buyers and sellers. As work in the VRM development community goes on the demand side moves toward work Keith and others are doing on the supply side, the two magnets will place a new force field over the marketplace: one that brings mutual interests into alignment, even as competition and other familiar market interactions continue as they always have.

Personal

http://personal.com

At Personal, we are on a mission to empower you with your personal information. It starts with a private vault where you can store and manage everything from your passwords to insurance information. With security and privacy by design built in, and featuring legal protections that ensure you have full ownership rights to your data, your vault provides a safe and searchable home for the infinite details that power your life.

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Zaarly

http://zaarly.com

Buy and sell with local friendly people. Zaarly will help you find anything, whether you need a local caterer or a housekeeper, swimming lessons or a private boat tour. All you do is ask and we automatically bring offers to you from people nearby.

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