Privacy is an Inside Job

The Searls Wanigan, 1949
Ordinary people wearing and enjoying the world’s original privacy technology: clothing and shelter. (I’m the one on top. Still had hair then.)

Start here: clothing and shelter are privacy technologies. We use them to create secluded spaces for ourselves. Spaces we control.

Our ancestors have been wearing clothing for at least 170,000 years and building shelters for at least half a million years. So we’ve had some time to work out what privacy means. Yes, it differs among cultures and settings, but on the whole it is well understood and not very controversial.

On the Internet we’ve had about 21 years*. That’s not enough time to catch up with the physical world, but hey: it’s still early.

It helps to remember that nature in the physical world doesn’t come with privacy. We have to make our own. Same goes for the networked world. And, since most of us don’t yet have clothing and shelter in the networked world, we’re naked there.

So, since others exploit our exposure — and we don’t like it — privacy on the Internet is very controversial. Evidence: searching for “privacy” brings up 4,670,000,000 results. Most of the top results are for groups active in the privacy cause, and for well-linked writings on the topic. But most of the billions of results below that are privacy policies uttered in print by lawyers for companies and published because that’s pro forma.

Most of those companies reserve the right to change their policies whenever they wish, by the way, meaning they’re meaningless.

For real privacy, we can’t depend on anybody else’s policies, public or private. We can’t wait for Privacy as a Service. We can’t wait for our abusers to get the clues and start respecting personal spaces we’ve hardly begun to mark out (even though they ought to be obvious). And we can’t wait for the world’s regulators to start smacking our abusers around (which, while satisfying, won’t solve the problem).

We need to work with the knitters and builders already on the case in the networked world, and recruit more to help out. Their job is to make privacy policies technologies we wear, we inhabit, we choose, and we use to signal what’s okay and not okay to others.

The EFF has been all over this for years. So have many developers on the VRM list. (Those are ones I pay the most attention to. Weigh in with others and I’ll add them here.)

The most widely used personal privacy technology today is ad and tracking blockingMore than 200 million of us now employ those on our browsers. The tools are many and different, but basically they all block ads and/or tracking at our digital doorstep. In sum this amounts to the largest boycott in human history.

But there’s still no house behind the doorstep, and we’re still standing there naked, even if we’ve kept others from planting tracking beacons on us.

One of the forms privacy takes in the physical world is the mutual understanding we call manners, which are agreements about how to respect each others’ intentions.

Here at Customer Commons, we’ve been working on terms we can assert, to signal those intentions. Here’s a working draft of what they look like now:

UserSubmittedTerms1stDraft

That’s at the Consent and Information Working Group. Another allied effort is Consent Receipt.

If you’re working on privacy in any way — whether you’re a geek hacking code, a policy maker, an academic, a marketer trying to do the right thing, or a journalist working the privacy beat — remember this: Privacy is personal first. Before anything elseIf you’re not working on getting people clothing and shelter of their own, you’re not helping where it’s needed.

It’s time to civilize the Net. And that’s an inside job.

__________________

*If we start from the dawn of ISPs, graphical browsers, email and the first commercial activity, which began after the NSFnet went down on 30 April 1995.

 

 

 

Personal Information Economy 2015 – London

The Personal Information Economy 2015 conference is coming up! From the event page:

As a new digital age unfolds brands have a make-or-break strategic opportunity to place their customer relationships on a powerful new footing.

The opportunity: to work with customers to create new ‘Me2B’ services that empower them with data and help them use this data to meet previously unmet needs, such as making better decisions and organising and managing their lives better.

Brands that enable these new relationships and services are sustaining and deepening customer trust, growing revenue streams and profits, differentiating themselves in crowded markets, and positioning themselves strategically at the forefront of the digital economy.

Details:

Personal Information Economy 2015: Growth Through Trust
The rise of Me2B commerce
Event Venue:
Kings Place, 90 York Way, London, N1 9AG
Event Date: Tuesday, December 8th 2015 from 09:00 to 19:00 (GMT)
More information here.

Mozilla has a cute video on the open, privacy protecting web

Check it out here at The Web We Want: An Open Letter:

And the note Mozilla posted with the video:

Our right to a free and open Internets has been under threat lately. The NSA — btw, that stands for the National Security Agency, which has the fancy responsibility of analyzing and acting upon security data — has gotten into the habit of spying on Americans with no justification (including 12 spies who were using NSA tools to spy on their significant others). No, I’m not kidding.

The FCC — btw, that stands for the Federal Communications Commission, which is supposed to regulate and protect our communications channels — just made it easier for big companies to control the speed at which you are allowed to access particular websites. For example, your Internet company (i.e., Comcast or Verizon) could turn into a tiered pay system. So instead of being like a public utility where everyone gets the same amount of water or electricity, Verizon could give Netflix faster access for a fee, but then the smaller start-up that wants to compete and couldn’t afford it would get slower access.

The Internet has become one of the most important resources in our lives. It’s a shared resource that all of us take part in. Government spying on it and corporate interference in it are probably not things we want for the future. So Mozilla had some children voice concern for their own future. Because it’s important. What kind of web do you want?

Let’s help NBC prep for the 2014 Winter Olympics

ice crystals and olympics symbol

The 2012 Summer Olympics are almost over, but not the challenge of a world where more and more customers are looking to watch coverage — especially of the live kind — on devices other than TVs, and through connections other than cable and satellite.

This has proved hard for many cable and satellite TV customers (myself, for example.) who would also like to watch NBC’s coverage on computers, smartphones, tablets, or large screens connected directly over the Internet.

For example, in spite of NBC’s good efforts (in the form, for example, of smartphone and tablet apps), it has often proven hard for cable and satellite TV customers to authenticate with their providers, or to find what programming packages are required to obtain NBC’s coverage services for the olympics.

No doubt NBC will soon be sitting down with itself, and with its distribution partners, to discuss what they have learned over the last few weeks, and to begin preparing for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Customer Commons wishes to help with that, by convening an independent forum where all of us can discuss what we’ve learned, and where customers can offer constructive help.

This will not be the place to complain, or to assume that the only parties in a position to come up with good ideas and solutions are NBC and its distribution partners. Out here in the long tail, we have plenty of good ideas too, and are willing to help any way we can. (In fact, I did that for NBC’s Winter 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, by contributing ice crystal images that appeared on screen throughout the event.) We are mindful that the goods are not free for the taking, and that improvements must be worthwhile for everybody, starting with NBC and its bottom line.

We’ll start with comments here, while we set up the forum. If the forum proves successful, we will also have a body of experience that can be leveraged in other markets where meeting demands of a fast-arriving future are daunting for everybody involved. We also invite ProjectVRM and PDE.Cc developers to come help out too. (These are developers working to solve market problems from the customer side, in cooperation with sellers.)

We have a unique opportunity here, while the olympics are still going on, to direct everybody’s interests in a positive and mutually helpful direction, a year and a half before the next olympics begin. So let’s go for it.

Privacy is personal

In the physical world, we govern privacy with clothes and walls, buttons, zippers, windows and doors. (See Clothing as a privacy system.)

We also see privacy as a thing that can be possessed. That’s the framing for statements like, “Give me some privacy, and “Don’t take away my privacy.”

On another hand (there can be many), we also see privacy as a state of being: “This is private.” “Keep this private.”

The American Heritage Dictionary defines privacy as “1. a) The quality or condition of being secluded from the presence or view of others; b) The state of being free from unsanctioned intrusion: a person’s right to privacy”; and  “2. The state of being concealed; secrecy.” The Collins English Dictionary (at that same link) adds one more: “3. (Philosophy) Philosophy the condition of being necessarily restricted to a single person.” The boldface is mine. I like that one. (And not just because I majored in philosophy, back in the decade.)

That’s the noun. To mine the derivational vein, we must also dig the adjective. Here’s American Heritage on private:

  1. a. Secluded from the sight, presence, or intrusion of others: a private hideaway; b. Designed or intended for one’s exclusive use: a private room.
  2. a. Of or confined to the individual; personal: a private joke; private opinions.private road b. Undertaken on an individual basis: private studies; private research. c. Of, relating to, or receiving special hospital services and privileges: a private patient.
  3. Not available for public use, control, or participation: a private club; a private party.
  4. a. Belonging to a particular person or persons, as opposed to the public or the government: private property. b. Of, relating to, or derived from nongovernment sources: private funding. c. Conducted and supported primarily by individuals or groups not affiliated with governmental agencies or corporations: a private college; a private sanatorium. d. Enrolled in or attending a private school: a private student.
  5. Not holding an official or public position: a private citizen.
  6. a. Not for public knowledge or disclosure; secret: private papers; a private communication. b. Not appropriate for use or display in public; intimate: private behavior; a private tragedy. c. Placing a high value on personal privacy: a private person.

Here’s what it says about deep sources for private (and also for privacy): “Middle English privat from Latin privatusnot in public life, past participle of privare, to release, deprive, from privussingle, alone… Indo-European roots.”

Thus, here in the everyday vernacular of the physical world, privacy is well understood, and has been since before we had History. But “here” now also constitutes the virtual world, where you are equally present, and reading this text right now. In the physical “here,” your privacy is provided by what you’re wearing and where you locate yourself. Your choices in the virtual “here” are not so plain and clear. Not yet, anyway. At best we can only hope that the stuff we try to keep private will stay that way. And it is best lately to hope less than you used to, because there is a large and growing business in abusing your privacy in the virtual world. That business is advertising. For that business, your privacy is a problem that can only be solved with a promise: Trust us. We not only respect your privacy, but are in business to help you. Buy stuff, that is.

Credit where due: the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) is deeply concerned about privacy, and requires that its members adhere to a raft of privacy principles. Here’s one: “Businesses collecting or using information about individual consumers for interactive advertising purposes should provide choice, where appropriate, to that individual. Consumers also should receive relevant education regarding cross-industry opportunities to opt out of the collection or use of individual information or other methods to exercise choice.”

However well-intended this might be, it’s a window fan blowing against the storm of wealth-creation that the “interactive” advertising business has become. On Friday, Facebook went public with a valuation exceeding $100 billion. Its business is advertising. So is Google’s, with a market cap hovering around $200 billion. The goal for both companies is to “personalize” advertising as much as possible. This requires making their machines learn all they can about you, whether you know it or not. And, for all their talk about providing choices, they’d rather you not shut out their tentacles or cover their prying eyes.

If you want to operate on the Web today, it is almost impossible to avoid either company, or the thousands of other that are in the business of knowing as much as possible about you, so that information can be sold to advertisers and their agencies. Wanting to maximize the sum and quality of information about individuals is at absolute odds with those companies’ stated commitments to privacy — as well as individuals’ own sense, based on experience in the physical world, of what privacy is and how it should work.

Did you know that, when you go to a site that has a Facebook “like” button, Facebook will know you were there, even if you don’t click on the button? Also, says Consumer Reports, “Even if you have restricted your information to be seen by friends only, a friend who is using a Facebook app could allow your data to be transferred to a third party without your knowledge.” And, adds Abine, “You know those Facebook Like and Connect buttons you see on almost every website?  They’re not just for sharing: they’re tracking devices.  Facebook buttons can track both members and non-members of Facebook, even if you never click them.  They transmit your clicks, browsing history, IP address, and more to Facebook.”

Is Facebook going to stop doing that kind of thing on their own, when they believe it’s also the very thing that makes them the most money?

Not surprisingly, Consumer Reports’ parent, Consumers Union, wants a policy solution. That is, new laws that restrict the ability of Facebook and others to, for example, track us without our permission. Meanwhile CU has also put up the HearUsNow site, as a way for individuals to demand better treatment by Facebook. The White House has also issued a Privacy Bill of Rights, which offers guidelines for lawmaking.

In his landmark book, Understanding Privacy, Raymond Solove details the many ways that privacy is nearly impossible to pin down in legal argument, much less in policy. So, while he notes in the first sentence of his first chapter, “Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis pronounced it ‘the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men,'” he later adds that “legal scholar Arthur Miller has declared that privacy is ‘difficult to define because it is exasperatingly vague and evanescent.'” Solove’s own case is that “the value of privacy must be determined on the basis of its importance to society, not in terms of individual rights.” He adds, “the value of privacy in a particular context depends on the social importance of the activities it facilitates.” The prescriptive chapters of the book are devoted to laying out a taxonomic framework for understanding privacy problems. Because, sensibly, “A lucid, comprehensive, and concrete understanding of privacy will aid the creation of law and policy to address privacy issues.”

Which is fine, if you think corporations and governments are the only actors in the marketplace with full agency. That is, with the ability to act, and to cause effects. As individuals on the Web, we don’t have that ability today. (Imagine having a website agree to your terms and conditions, rather than the reverse.) One symptom of that is the call for legislative protection, which we wouldn’t have if we had full agency. So, the thinking goes, “We can’t protect ourselves, so the government should step in.”

I’m against that, at least for now, because I don’t believe we’ve done enough to empower individuals on their own. I’d rather we work on equipping individuals to enjoy full agency, as independent and sovereign beings, in the online marketplace as well as in the offline one. Or, in other words, to break out of the calf-cow system (called “client-server”) that we’ve been stuck in since 1995. I believe the personal nature of privacy, as it has been understood plainly since the late Pleistocene, requires that.

Some of the tools are already there. Public key cryptography, for example. Link contracts in XDI. The stuff Alec Muffett starts talking about in Slide 47 of his presentation here. Same goes for much of the work being done by the ProjectVRM development community. As ordinary folk we don’t need to understand the technologies behind all that work, but it helps to know that we’re not starting from zero.

At the very least we need some perspective here, based on the fact that we have hardly begun to explore what it will take to create physical-grade privacy on the Net. And that as we do, we need to keep it personal. That’s where privacy is best understood and measured. There is also cause and effect. If you and I don’t have privacy online, society won’t either.

 

 

A sense of bewronging

“Social networks” are getting out of control. And I don’t mean their control. I mean your control and mine. Here’s an image to keep in mind while you read the rest of this post:

The calf is you or me. The cow is just one of our many social networks. Here’s how the situation looks from my browser…

  • I have 840 contacts . I won’t call them friends, though some of them are. A few are relatives, but most are neither. They’re people I’ve met or had contact with, somehow, somewhere. I also have 675 “friend requests.” If you’re on that list and want to contact me, find another way, since I avoid Facebook for all but the unavoidable (such as, say, a reunion that’s being organized by relatives).
  • I have 480 contacts , most of which I know about as well as my contacts on Facebook. I also belong to one Linkedin discussion group that I haven’t figured out how to deal with yet, mostly because I prefer my discussion groups in email, where I can sort them out into boxes of my own making. I see that Linkedin now also has updates on the Twitter model (and via Twitter). I see why they do it, but I don’t need it.
  • I have 212 contacts on Flickr (plus more through three other accounts). I don’t know and don’t follow most of those contacts, because to me Flickr is is for sharing photos with the world in organized ways. While I appreciate the groups there, I’ve organized none, and when my photos show up in some, it’s always because other people — most of which I don’t know — have put them there. I also know few if any of the people who have put more than 200 of my photos on Wikimedia Commons, a gallery of photos eligible for inclusion in Wikipedia articles. (And, in fact, most of my shots in the Commons are also in Wikipedia.) Again, this is not a social effect. Also note that in the Wikipedia case that there isn’t a business model anywhere in sight (aside from the $50/year I gladly pay for my two “pro” Flickr accounts).
  • I follow 1352 entities (most are people, some are companies or organizations) , and am followed by 13,096 others. I am sure most of us, whoever (and whatever) we are, don’t know each other. I use Twitter to find and share interesting stuff in short postings. This may be “social,” but only in a very loose sense.
  • I don’t know how many “friends” or contacts I have on Google, because I can’t find a number, or a list. My iGoogle page (which I view in just one of the four browsers I use) lists eight alphabetically before it runs out out of space at the letter N. I don’t know how to scroll down to see the rest, and I’m not much interested in trying. In any case the number is a tiny subset of lists elsewhere. For what it’s worth, I use Google’s services for many different things (docs, self-organized groups, mail de-spamming), but “social” stuff is not among them.
  • The address book on my computer lists 1162 cards, including a growing number of dead people, dead companies, and dead numbers from live companies. Yesterday I weeded the number of Verizon contact numbers down from six to one.
  • My main chat client, which spans four different contact lists and accounts (AIM-iChat, Google, Linux Journal and the Berkman Center), currently shows 35 available. I don’t know what the total number of contacts there is. Several hundred, I guess.
  • My other chat account, Skype, doesn’t integrate with those in the last paragraph and doesn’t give me a count of people online and off. I’m guessing I have about fifty contacts there.

The job of integrating all of these is mine, and I don’t bother, because the tools for doing that don’t yet exist — at least not in sufficient maturity for me to contemplate using them. Thus I am not yet what  calls the point of integration for my own data. In fact I can’t be, because most of the data in these “social networks” is not mine. Functionally (if not also legally), it’s theirs. And I’m just a calf for each of them.

Of course, all these companies want to help me do everything, by leveraging the “social” data they have about me. Mostly they give me advertising that doesn’t help, but sometimes they just try to improve their meat and potatoes with “social” gravy. The latest example is Google, with “” recommendations. These augment Google’s third improvement to , through a button“to publicly give something your stamp of approval.” The idea: “Your +1′s can help friends, contacts, and others on the web find the best stuff when they search,” because “sometimes it’s easier to find exactly what you’re looking for when someone you know already found it.”

Why does Google think we want to “find the best stuff” all the time — as if all we do is shop, or something like it? Sure, they make their money with advertising, but I think the real reason is that they can’t resist the temptation to route “social” signals into everything else. Hey, it’s what the other kids are doing.

Since so much of what those kids do is invisible to us, they try to get away with all kinds of stuff. For more on what they’re doing, read The Wall Street Journal‘sWhat They Know series  http://wsj.com/wtk), and Joe Andrieu’s ISharedWhatFacebook login simulation site, which shows you how much personal data — yours and your friends’ — might get spilled every time you click on one of these:

They get away with it because the calf-cow system allows it. Also because the World Wide Ranch is getting really freaking huge. By some counts there are more than a billion commercial sites on the Web. Just by the sheer numbers involved, the default assumption is that most searches have commercial purposes. That’s what you’re likely to find in any case.

It’s interesting that non-advertising search results are now called “organic,” as if they were some kind of marginalized exception, of interest only to to a few obsessive purists.

Says Wikipedia, “Organic search results are listings on search engine results pages that appear because of their relevance to the search terms, as opposed to their being advertisements. In contrast, non-organic search results may include pay per click advertising.” How quaint and retro, to think that some search results should simply be relevant to search terms, without commercial prejudice by the search engine.

In respect to Google’s recent search improvements, I submit that organic searches are still what people want most, and that “social” help is marginal at best and distracting at worst.

Take yesterday morning, when I was wondering what accounts for ground conductivity. This was, admittedly, an idle distraction of the sort I wrote about later in the day, in World Wide Puddle. I mean, I didn’t really need to know what accounts for ground conductivity, especially since it’s a question I’ve had for about fifty years, and I haven’t suffered for lack of an answer. But search engines are here for a reason, so I looked again.

Google says it finds more than six million results in a search for “ground conductivity”. The top result is the FCC’s M3 maps page, which I’d expect. These maps explain why, for example, , a 5000-watt radio station on 570am in Yankton, South Dakota, has a signal that reaches from Canada to Oklahoma, while WWNC, a station on the same channel in Asheville, North Carolina, operating with the same power, covers an area only a fraction the size of WNAX’s. For a broadcast engineering junkie like me, this is catnip, but it doesn’t explain why ground conductivity varies from one region to another. I mean, why does flat ground in Long Island have almost no ground conductivity (0.5 mhos/meter) while equally flat ground around Dallas has very high ground conductivity (30 mhos/meter). Why do mountains in New England have low conductivity (2-4 mhos/meter) while mountains in coastal California have high conductivity (8-30 mhos/meter)? The M3 maps don’t say.

In the second result, Wikipedia says “Ground conductivity refers to theelectrical conductivity of the subsurface of the earth.” But that’s about it.

The third result, from Tom K1JJ, tells how to measure ground conductivity, but doesn’t explain the cause.

Next is a Facebook page on the subject, with a write-up lifted straight out of Wikipedia. It is recommended to me, with thumbs up, by two people I know: a nephew of mine and a fellow broadcast engineering obsessive. There is no discussion, and the page says “0 people like this”.

Two decades ago, when Compuserve hosted a large variety of excellent forums, I belonged to a broadcast engineering social network of sorts (though few of us met in real life). But today I don’t have one, even on Facebook — and the rest of my many “social networks” are no help with searches like this one.

Hmm… I just thought, “maybe Quora could provide some help. I just went there in the browser where Quora’s cookies for me are parked. It still wants me to log in, and a minute has passed while the progress thing on the bottom of the page says “Waiting for Facebook.” Okay, I’m there now, and I just put up the question, “What causes ground conductivity?”. According to Quora, I have “981 Followers485 Following” and “6 @Mentions” there. Will one or more of them get me an answer? Interesting experiment. We’ll see.

Whatever happens on Quora, I have no faith that my searches on Google will be improved by anybody’s “+1,” any more than my searches have been improved by “social” whatever. Here’s why: usually I’m looking for something very specific. And often what I’m looking for is not for sale.

In most cases I use Google and Bing the way I use a dictionary: to look something up. I don’t need a “recommendation” when I just want to know how to spell “mocassin”. Stand back, everybody. I think the dictionary should have it. Thank you.

I learned about Google’s “+1″ feature only this morning, on Sheila Lennon’s blog. There she quotes the same Google post about “+1″:

So how do we know which +1’s to show you? Like social search, we use many signals to identify the most useful recommendations, including things like the people you are already connected to through Google (your chat buddies and contacts, for example). Soon we may also incorporate other signals, such as your connections on sites like Twitter, to ensure your recommendations are as relevant as possible. If you want to know who you’re connected to, and how, visit the “Social Circle and Content” section of the Google Dashboard.

To get started +1’ing the stuff you like, you’ll need to create a Google profile—or if you already have one, upgrade it. You can use your profile to see all of your +1’s in one place, and delete those you no longer want to recommend. To see +1’s in your Google search results you’ll need to be logged into your Google Account.

 

I just clicked on the Google Dashboard link, and found I had to log in, even though I was already logged in on a different tab in the same browser. This got me into my Google Accounts page, which has a LOT of information in a lot of contexts — all provided by Google. At the top is Gmail. Slightly edited (for the privacy of others), and with links removed, it says,

Gmail
Inbox 5000 conversations
Most recent: [18] new discussions, [15] new comments… at 9:22 AM
All mail 5000 conversations
Most recent: [18] new discussions, [15] new comments… at 9:22 AM
Sent mail 70 conversations
Most recent: ____ on Mar 31, 2011
Saved drafts 46 conversations
Most recent: progress & title on Mar 9, 2011
Chat history 60 conversations
Most recent: Chat with __________ on Mar 11, 2011
Spam 17000 conversations
Most recent: Copy of a Gucci watch is what you need … at 9:40 AMTrash 60 conversationsMost recent: Re: Sharing my TEDx Talk: The Unclear Path at 11:01 PM

 

First, I almost never go to Gmail in a browser. In fact, few people know my actual Gmail address (which is silly and has nothing to do with my real name). All mail to me at Searls.com gets routed to my Gmail account, which I use to filter out spam. I then pick up mail there from my IMAP account, which keeps copies at the server, or “in the cloud” as we now like to say.

Second, what makes Spam or Trash “conversations”? I’ll go to my grave being known as the main guy responsible for the “markets are conversations” meme, but usage like this makes me regret it.

Following Gmail on my Accounts page are:

  • Google Video (nothing uploaded)
  • Groups (33 total, mostly inactive, and not including two I just killed off)
  • Health (1 profile, which I gave up filling out long ago)
  • iGoogle (14 gadgets, 1 tab)
  • Latitude (disabled, because I like not being tracked)
  • Product search (shopping list has two items: the most recent of which reads “Most recent: Canon EOS 30D on May 27, 2006″ — a camera I bought long ago)
  • Profile (16 “about me” items, most of which I have kept vague)
  • Reader (36 subscriptions, following 11)
  • Sidewiki (no entries)
  • Sites (1 “shared with me” that I don’t know)
  • Social Circle and Content (which says,
    Direct connections from Google chat and contacts 4 connections with content; Direct connections from links listed on your Google profile 200 connections with content; Secondary connections 1788 connections with content; and Social content 3 links — and I have no idea wtf that all means)
  • Talk (23 contacts, which settles a guess I made above)
  • Web history (most recent for Web, Images, News, Products, Video, Maps, Blogs and Books — but only with this one browser, on this one laptop)
  • YouTube (a profile, plus a paucity of stuff under uploads, history, favorites, subscription, contacts and personal messages)
  • Other products (“11 additional products are not yet available in this dashboard – Show all”)

So I just spent twenty minutes weeding through and cleaning up all that stuff. I could spend similar sums of time doing the same on Linkedin, Flickr and other services. But I would rather have my own way of keeping personal information straight with myself, and sharing it selectively and when I felt like it. That’s what VRM development going on in the Personal Data Ecosystem is about. I won’t go into all the projects, but the idea they share is that each of us, as sovereign individuals, are (as Joe says) the best points of integration for our own data. None of these social sites, no matter how well-intended they may be, can do the job, simply because nothing, and nobody, can be personal for me on my behalf. If puppets are involved, they need to be mine. Not the reverse.

At the Kynetx Impact conference two weeks ago (where much fun was had), gave an interesting talk that summarized what he said last November, in a post perfectly titled
The Third Wave of the Web Will Be Uniquely Personal. He writes about three waves. The first is “information and access” — roughly what I’ve called the “static Web.” The seond is “social.” That’s the stage we’re getting fed up with now. The third is personal:

Now that the world’s information is posted, linked, indexed and searchable, and friends are connecting, sharing, liking, and following, the quest is on to streamline the noise and give the Web another dimension – one not measured by the data, or who led you to the data, but you as an individual. The third wave of the Web, I believe, is going to be about personalization by individual based on that individual’s preferences – explicitly stated or otherwise.

The declaration of the next wave of the Web being personal is not shared universally, of course. Some say the next wave is all about mobile. Others may say the next wave is all about location. But the right approach to ‘personal’ absolutely encompasses each of these things. With our smartphones and tablets being increasingly powerful, they are practically an extension of us, and we are relying on them to discover relevant things, content, places and products for us as individuals. Similarly, our location is an ingredient of who we are – for where we are impacts our decisions, and what tips are relevant, be it for news, for restaurants, lodging, dating or anything else. So “personal” as an individual is both local and mobile.

Excellent. I especially like how smartphones and tablets are extensions of ourselves in the world. (A little more about that here.) Then he adds,

Personal As In Me.

A lot of services say they are “personal”, when in fact, most of what they do is actually social.

These services may leverage your social graph to provide personalized recommendations based on what friends or other people similar to you may like – much like television shows group people of similar demographics to guess what commercials are best suited for which episodes in which time slots. The hope may be that the more your friends like something, the more likely you are to click it or buy it. Peer pressure, you know. Meanwhile, other services say they are personal because you have specifically provided them with information about you and what you like, which goes partway to discovering your interests, but is incomplete, and possibly inaccurate, as you may want to indicate that you are something that you are not, or you may have overlooked some of your own interests in the name of rapid completion.

Beyond these initial attempts is a new wave of companies trying to crack the code of the real you. Of course, my6sense is one of those companies. Our goal is to deliver a personalized experience in all possible aspects of your life, finding the right information for you at the right time in the right context, based on you as an individual. But we are not alone. Take, for example, Hunch.com, which is talking about personalizing the Internet, and says they can build a taste profile for you, based on your own unique interests and tastes. Also, in October, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch previewed Gravity, founded by former MySpace executives. In that piece, which he headlined as “The Personalization War”, he said “I saw my own Interest Graph based only on my Facebook and Twitter streams over the last several months and it’s scary-accurate.”

Louis doesn’t go off the personal rails here. He just doesn’t quite get on, staying instead on the corporate ones:

Gravity says they will help “The right information find you. Hunch says it “Personalizes the Internet”. You’ve heard me talk about my6sense for some time – discovering your “Digital intuition”. Besides the crazy folks like us who are thinking about this constantly, there are other smart companies on the case. Start with personal recommendations from TiVoAmazon and Netflix. Look at Google Reader Magic andGoogle’s Priority Inbox for Gmail. Look also at LinkedIn’s purchase of Mspoke for personal recommendations and Facebook’s splitting of theMost Recent feed and that of the News Feed.
Which makes sense: My6sense is his company. Then finally,
The continuing rapid growth of information creation and sharing, combined with pervasive connectivity, increased capability of smartphones and other mobile devices and the growth of location is all pointing us into a direction where the services on the other end have more potential to know you than those of years past, and you have the ability to be inspired by the right information in the right place more than ever before. This is a wave, one that benefits from all these mega-changes in the Web, that small companies and big ones alike are seeing. Maybe there’s another big winner in there, just like there was in the last two. Regardless, the direction is clear. Show me my Web for me.

Sorry, but no. My Web is not their Web. I’m tired of being shown. I’m tired of “experiences” that are “delivered” to me. I’m tired of bad guesswork — or anyguesswork. I don’t want “scarily accurate” guesses about me and what I might want.

What I crave is independence, and better ways of engaging — ones that are mine and not just theirs. Ones that work across multiple services in consistent ways. Ones that let me change my data with all these services at once, if I want to.

I want liberation from the commercial Web’s two-decade old design flaws. I don’t care how much a company uses first person possessive pronouns on my behalf. They are not me, they do now know me, and I do not want them pretending to be me, or shoving their tentacles into my pockets, or what their robots think is my brain. Enough, already.

I spoke at Kynetx Impact the night before Louis’ talk. The visuals are on Slideshare. Here is slide 25, which illustrates the problem with the commercial Web’s long-defaulted client-server design:

Wikipedia says, “The client–server model of computing is a distributed application structure that partitions tasks or workloads between the providers of a resource or service, called servers, and service requesters, called clients.”

So, while the Net itself has an end-to-end design, in which all the ends are essentially peers, the Web (technically an application on the Net) has a submisive-dominant design in which clients submit to servers. It’s a calf-cow model. As calves, we request pages and other files from servers, usually getting cookie ingredients mixed in, so the cow can remember where we were the last time we suckled, and also give us better services. Especially advertising.

We have no choice but to agree with this system, if we want to be part of it. And, since the cows provide all the context for everything we do with them, we have onerous “agreements” in name only, such as what you see on your iPhone every time Apple makes a change to their store:

Legal folks call these “contracts of adhesion.” Sez the Free Dictionary,

A type of contract, a legally binding agreement between two parties to do a certain thing, in which one side has all the bargaining power and uses it to write the contract primarily to his or her advantage.

An example of an adhesion contract is a standardized contract form that offers goods or services to consumers on essentially a “take it or leave it” basis without giving consumers realistic opportunities to negotiate terms that would benefit their interests. When this occurs, the consumer cannot obtain the desired product or service unless he or she acquiesces to the form contract.

Here’s the thing: client-server’s calf-cow model requires this kind of thing, because the system is designed so the server-cows are in complete control. You are not free. You are captive, and dependent.

This system has substantiated a business belief that has been around ever since Industry won the industrial revolution: that a captive customer is more valuable than a free one. We’ve built systems that tendentiously affirm that belief, and the commercial Web is chief among those systems today. Correspondingly, on the customer side, we actually believe that a free market is your choice of captor. Even champions of the free market, such as The Wall Street Journal, seem to think this is okay. (Or they wouldn’t keep talking about how telecom giants — occupants of a regulatory zoo they all but own and control — comprise the “free market” at work.)

If the next wave is personal, then we have to bring our own contexts.

Think for a moment about the context of renting a wheelbarrow. If you sign an agreement for that, it’s only to put up a deposit, pay a certain amount, assume liability for whatever harms you might cause with it, and return the thing in good condition. That’s about it.

Or think about what happens when you walk into a shoe store. You don’t have to sign a damn thing. (If you’re lucky, the store won’t require that you belong to their “loyalty” program just to get a “discount” that’s nothing more than a normal price, rather than a higher price they charge to punish non-”members”.) Your context is shopping for shoes. Laws apply, of course. You aren’t allowed to steal things or act in a disturbing way. But nobody stands at the door telling you to stop and sign an agreement — least of all one with clauses (which nearly all adhesive contracts have) saying they have the right to change the terms, and they can do that whenever they please.

We won’t get rid of calf-cow systems, nor should we. They work, but they have their limits, and those become more apparent with every new calf-cow service we join. But we can work around these things, and supplement them with other systems that give us equal power on equal footings, including the ability to proffer our own terms, express our own preferences and policies, and make independent choices.

Louis Gray’s personal wave is for real, and it’s just starting. It’s also what we’ve been building through the last four years with . And it’s starting to catch on. The number and variety of VRM development projects has grown a lot lately, as has the activity level as well.

Naturally, VRM has attracted the interest of major players on the sell side of the marketplace. A month ago I spoke on stage with  on stage at the Internet Advertising Bureau conference. (John’s insightful post about “digital plumage” ran in the same timeframe.) Next week I’ll speak at  in San Francisco and to a meeting with  and  in Minneapolis. It’ll be fun.

The message I’m bringing is not about how these companies can improve the cow systems everybody has done so much to build and improve already. It’s about how buyers and sellers are no longer just cattle, and how we now need to prove something we’ve known all along: that free customers are more valuable than captive ones.