Intention Economy

The dawn of i-commerce

E-commerce is fine, as far as it goes. That is: as far as the seller-based industrial model can take it. Where it doesn’t go is to customer independence and agency.

We will never get either of those as long as everything we can do in online markets is on commercial platforms where others provide all the means of engagement, all the terms and conditions, all the rules, all the privacy, all the prices, all the identities, all the definitions of loyalty, all the choices for everything.

Nothing wrong with any of those, by the way. In fact, they all may be necessary, but still insufficient; because we still need our own means for signaling demand across the whole world of supply, outside of platforms, and not just inside of them.

Back in the physical world, we have a good model for full customer independence and agency: all the open places—main streets, crossroads, byways—where natural markets thrive and all of us have our own wallets, cash, credit and choices of ways to browse, inform, identify ourselves (or not), express loyalty, negotiate prices, form agreements, keep records, and not be tracked like marked animals.

The Internet, as a peer-to-peer, end-to-end environment, should support marketplaces where we are fully independent and operate as free agents without fear of surveillance or unwanted control by others, just like we’ve long enjoyed in the physical world.

When we have those marketplaces online, they will comprise a new category of commerce. Our name for that category is i-commerce

It’s also what we expect the Intention Byway to bring into the world, starting with geographical and topical communities, each a commons of customers—and of companies ready to engage with independent customers. As we scaffold that up, we expect an intention economy to emerge.

That doesn’t mean e-commerce will go away. It does mean making i-commerce is a worthy and challenging prospect, and it’s our job to help make that happen.

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A New Way

The Byway is an alternate path for buyers and sellers to reach each other independently that doesn’t rely on Big Tech platforms. This enables real, direct commercial relationships, in a small town/small business kind of way. It’s the brain-baby of our CTO, Hadrian Zbarcea, and is informed by his ample experience with the Apache Software Foundation, SWIFT, the FAA and other enterprises large and small.

In this model, the byway is the path along which messages signaling intent travel between individuals and companies (or anyone), each of which has a simple computer called an intentron, which sends and receives those messages, and also executes code for the owner’s purposes as a participant in the open marketplace the Internet was designed to support.

As computers (which can be physical or virtual), intentrons run apps that can come from any source in the free and open marketplace, and not just from app stores of controlling giants such as Apple and Google. These apps can run algorithms that belong to you, and can make useful sense of your own data. (For example, data about finances, health, fitness, property, purchase history, subscriptions, contacts, calendar entries—all those things that are currently silo’d or ignored by silo builders that want to trap you inside their proprietary systems.) The same apps also don’t need to be large. Early prototypes have less than 100 lines of code.

Messages called intentcasts can be sent from intentrons to markets on the pub-sub model, through the byway, which is asynchronous, similar to email in the online world and package or mail forwarding in the offline world. Subscribers on the sell side will be listening for signals from markets for anything. Name a topic, and there’s something to subscribe to. Intentcasts on the customers’ side are addressed to markets by topical name. Responsibilities along the way are handled by messaging and addressing authorities. Addresses themselves are URNs, or Uniform Resource Names.

These are some businesses that can thrive along the Intention Byway:

  • Intentron makers
  • Intentron sellers
  • App makers
  • App sellers (or stores)
  • Addressing authorities
  • Messaging services
  • CDNs to temporarily hold larger data chunks

—in addition to sellers looking for better signals from the demand side of the market than surveillance-based guesswork can begin to equal.

We are not looking to boil an ocean here (though we do see our strategy as a blue one). The markets first energized by the promise of this model are local and vertical. We are currently planning to prototype and research the effects of both the Intentron and the Byway in Bloomington, Indiana, in cooperation with the Ostrom Workshop of Indiana University there (where Joyce and I are visiting scholars).

We also see the Byway as complementary to, rather than competitive with, developments with similar ambitions, such as SSI, DIDcomm, picos, and JLINC. Once we take off our browser blinders, a gigantic space for new e-commerce development appears. All of those, and many more, will have work to do in it.

So stay tuned for more about life after cookies—and outside the same old bakery.


*Specifically, a “data controller” is “a legal or natural person, an agency, a public authority, or any other body who, alone or when joined with others, determines the purposes of any personal data and the means of processing it.”

While this seems to say that any one of us can be a data controller, that was not what the authors of the GDPR had in mind. They only wanted to maximize the width of the category to include solo operators, rather than to include the individual from whom personal data is collected. (Read what follows from that last link to see what I mean.) Still, this is a loophole through which personal agency can move, because (says the GDPR) the “data subject” whose rights the GDPR protects, is a “natural person.”

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Putting the R back in CRM

Bob Stutz at SAP

Every customer is familiar with Customer Relationship Management (aka CRM). They meet it when they get personal offers, when they call customer service, or any time they deal with companies that seem to know who they are.

Doing this is a  huge business, passing $40 billion worldwide in 2018, and expected to be twice that in 2015. All of CRM is also B2B: business to business. Salesforce, SAP, Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle, Adobe and IBM don’t sell their CRM services to you and me (that would be B2C—business to customer). They sell it to the companies that want to relate to you on other  than a cash-only basis.

CRM is also becoming more visible. The Salesforce Tower in San Francisco now dominates the city’s skyline, while the company itself was just added to the Dow Jones index, while other blue chip companies, such as Exxon, were dropped.

And the category is shaking up from the inside. Especially notable is Bob Stutzmove from Salesforce to SAP. He’s now Head of Customer Experience (aka CX) there.

It is in his new capacity that Bob argues, in an excellent interview, for restoring the full value of CRM’s middle name: Relationship.

The interview is significant, because Bob is, in many ways, the founder of the CRM software category, having started as product owner at Siebel then working at various times in similar roles at Oracle, SAP, HP, Microsoft, Salesforce.

He’s now back at SAP, and in reflective mood as to how CRM software has evolved, and what needs to be done next. It’s fair to say that he is not overly impressed with the current state; and seems to be in a mood to fix that. Given SAP’s German roots and that EU is getting behind more ‘human-centric’ approaches to personal data, it may well be that he is able to take CRM in a new and fruitful direction.

Here are a few thoughts that occur would be worth considering for moving CRM forward in a significant way. I am speaking here from the customer side, albeit from also having spent many years running customer management in large organisations (so have insight into what works/ does not work in and around CRM at present). Here goes:

1) We would clearly separate B2C CRM capabilities from B2B CRM capabilities; the latter needs a sales force/ team and lots of bells and whistles, while the former does not and needs a different set of bells and whistles. The current model applies B2B principles to B2C markets and that really just does not work.

2) To fix B2C CRM (our main interest in Customer Commons), we would remove the Sales/ Sales force Automation piece from the newly formed B2C CRM. Then we’d move the marketing part of CRM over to the side of the customer; we’d do so by re-inventing the concept of the preference centre: make that meaningful so a customer or potential customers can genuinely get what they want to get, and not get what they don’t want to get.

3) So in B2C, one is left with customer controlled data (including demand or buying intention data), permissions and preferences. Then the whole customer service piece would see co-managed data between individuals and their suppliers using common processes and tools. So both parties have tools to manage their products and services data. More on that below.

The over-riding raison d’être we’d place on forcing the above change through (if we were in a position to do so) would be that ‘CRM needs to re-think the R part’. That is to say, the bit that has gone so badly wrong is in how RELATIONSHIP is handled. It is definitely not the case that individuals do not wish to have relationships with SOME of their suppliers and have one anyway with SOME of their products and services; so let’s that a meaningful rather than the current abusive relationship.

That requires tools on the side of the customer. We call these Vendor Relationship Management (aka VRM) tools. (Explained here.) Many of these already exist (here’s a long list), with category names such as intentcasting and Personal Information Management Systems (PIMS) — though all are still nee and do not yet popular at scale.

In this model, both parties come to the market’s table with relationship management tools: B2C becomes CRM+VRM. And both have reasons to co-manage the relevant data between them.

The screenshot below shows tools on the individual side for managing their ‘stuff’ (i.e. products and services); they do so in the same way for all products and services, and can make that data accessible to their suppliers who may wish to act on it, augment it, and ultimately co-manage it.

The same principles apply to individuals making their buying intention data available to the market in standard ways (example below). Both of the above, with appropriate, pro-active permission, can be used to drive digital advertising, marketing and customer service related communications.

So what the customer is asking for from the CRM service providers, is ways to plug in their own standardised, ultra-modern customer-side capabilities that enable both parties to engage in mutually beneficial activities. That model begins to feel more like a working relationship……

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What only customers can do

Businesses love to say “the customer comes first,” “the customer is in charge” and that they need to “let the customer lead.”

But the customer can’t come first, can’t be in charge, and can’t lead, without tools of her own: tools that give  her ways to interact in common ways across all the companies she deals with. Ways that give her leverage:

She already has some of those tools. The Internet. The Web. EMail. The phone system. Credit cards. Cars. All of those give a person scale, in roughly the same way that using a common language or a common currency gives a person scale.

For an example of absent scale at work, look at what a customer needs to do when she changes, say, her email address, preferred credit card or last name. She has to go from one website to another, over and over again, logging into all of them separately, like a bee buzzing from one flower to another across a whole garden—only taking a lot more time and wasting a lot more energy.

The reason we have that situation is that companies are still leveraging industrial age norms, in which every company works to “own” the customer, and her experience, separately and exclusively. This is why, even though we’ve been living in a networked world for a quarter century, and we all carry highly advanced digital devices in our pocket and purses, we remain stuck in a world where every company we deal with has its own unique and different ways of dealing with us, and of providing us with ways for relating to them.

The plethorization of separate and unique “customer experiences” (“CX” to the industry) is only compounded with each new company we deal with—and worse, with each new law imposing obligations on companies that will implement compliance differently. We see this today with all the separate ways we “consent” to being tracked by companies doing their separate best to comply with the GDPR and the CCPA as well. Those laws embody the assumption that we still live in an industrial world where all agency over personal privacy resides on the corporate side, rather than on the personal one.

This is why better CRM, CX and GDPR/CCPA compliance approaches actually make the problem worse. Since all are different and exclusive, each one adds unique forms of cognitive and operational overhead on both the corporate and the personal side of every “relationship” that really isn’t.

It’s as if every company required a different language, a different handshake, and a different keyboard layout.

To really come first, to really be in charge, to really lead, the customer needs powers of her own that extend across all the companies she deals with. That’s scale.

Just as companies need to scale their relationships across many customers, customers need to scale their relationships across many companies.

The customer can only get scale through tools for both independence and engagement. She already has those with her car, her purse, her phone, her personal computer, her email, her browsers, her computer, her credit, her cash. (See The Cash Model of Customer Experience.) Every company she deals with respects the independence she gets from those tools, and every company has the same base-level ways of interacting with them. Those tools are also substitutable. The customer can swap them for others like it and maintain her autonomy, independence and ability to engage.

For the last ten years years many dozens of developers around ProjectVRM have been working on tools and services that give customers scale. You’ll find a partial list of them here.

Here is what we have been looking for, from any and all of them together—

  • Ways to manage gradual, selective and trust-based disclosure of personal identifiers, starting from a state that is anonymous (literally, nameless).
  • Ways to manage our many administrative identities (the ones by which companies and other organizations know each of us), as well as our sovereign source identities (how each of us know ourselves).
  • Ways to express terms and policies with which companies can agree (preferably automatically).
  • Ways to change personal data records (e.g. name, address, phone number) for every company we deal with, in one move.
  • Ways to share personal data (e.g. purchase or service intentions) selectively and in a mutually trusting way, with every company we deal with.
  • Ways to exercise full control over our sovereign data spaces (e.g. PIMS) for every thing each ofus owns, and within which reside our relationships with companies that support those things.
  • Ways to engage with existing CRM, call center and other relationship systems on the vendors’ side.

We have most or all of the technologies, standards, protocols, specifications and APIs we need already. What we need now is thinking and development that goes meta: one level up, to where the customer actually lives, working to manage all these different relationships with all these different cards, apps, websites, logins, passwords and the rest of it.

Apps for doing those things should be as substitutable as a car, a wallet, a purse, a phone, an email client. In other words, we should have a choice of apps, and not be stuck again inside the exclusive offerings of any single company.

Only with scale can free customers prove more valuable than captive ones. And only with mastery will customers get scale. We can’t get there with a zillion different little apps, most of which are not ours. We need go-to apps of our own.

One of our jobs at Customer Commons is to stand with the customer as she watches those tools and services being built, and weighs in with input and intelligence of her own. If you want to help us do that, follow @CustomerCommons and DM us there after we follow you back. Thanks.

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The business problems only customers can solve

Customer Commons was created because there are many business and market problems that can only be solved from the customers’ side, under the customer’s control, and at scale, with #customertech.

In the absence of solutions that customers control, both customers and businesses are forced to use business-side-only solutions that limit customer power to what can be done within each business’s silo, or to await regulatory help, usually crafted by captive regulators who can’t even imagine full customer agency.

Here are some examples of vast dysfunctions that customers face today (and which hurt business and markets as well), in the absence of personal agency and scale:

  • Needing to “consent” to terms that can run more than 10,000 words long, and are different for every website and service provider
  • Dealing with privacy policies that can also run more than 10,000 words long, which are different for every website and service provider, and that the site or service can change whenever they want, and in practice don’t even need to obey
  • Dealing with personal identity systems that are different for every website or service provider
  • Dealing with subscription systems that are different for every website and service provider requiring them
  • Dealing with customer service and tech support systems that are different for every website or service provider
  • Dealing with login and password requirements that are as different, and numerous, as there are websites and service providers
  • Dealing with crippled services and/or higher prices for customers who aren’t “members” of a “loyalty” program, which involves high cognitive and operational overhead for customer and seller alike—and (again) work differently for every website and service provider
  • Dealing with an “Internet of Things” that’s really just an Amazon of things, an Apple of Things, and a Google of things.

And here are some examples of solutions customers can bring to business and markets:

  • Standardized terms that customers can proffer as first parties, and all the world’s sites and services can agree to, in ways where both parties have records of agreements
  • Privacy policies of customers’ own, which are easy for every website and service provider to see and respect 
  • Self-sovereign methods for customers to present only the identity credentials required to do business, relieving many websites and service providers of the need to maintain their own separate databases of personal identity data
  • Standard ways to initiate, change and terminate customers’ subscriptions—and to keep records of those subscriptions—greatly simplifying the way subscriptions are done, across all websites and service providers
  • Standard ways for customers to call for and engage customer service and tech support systems that work the same way across all of them
  • Standard ways for customers to relate, without logins and passwords, and to do that with every website and service provider
  • Standard ways to express loyalty that will work across every website, retailer and service provider
  • Standard ways for customers to “intentcast” an interest in buying, securely and safely, at scale, across whole categories of products and services
  • Standard ways for customers’ belongings to operate, safely and securely, in a true Internet of Things
  • Standardized dashboards on which customers can see their own commercially valuable data, control how it is used, and see who has shared it, how, and under what permissions, across all the entities the customer deals with

There are already many solutions in the works for most of the above. Our work at Customer Commons is to help all of those—and many more—come into the world.

 

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Customers as a Third Force

Almost all arguments in economics are advanced by two almost opposed positions, each walled into the castles of their ideologies, both insisting that their side has the solutions and the other side causes the problems—while meanwhile between the two flows a river of customers who, if they could be heard, and could participate with more than their cash, would have solutions of their own.

Customer Commons’s job is giving those customers full agency for dealing with both the businesses and governments of the world, and in the process proving that free customers are more valuable—to themselves and the businesses of the world—than captive (or tracked) ones.

It’s a long fight, dating back to the personal agency we lost when industry won the industrial revolution. And it’s one we continue to lose, in many ways, through these early decades of the digital revolution.

If it weren’t losing, we wouldn’t have books such as Shoshana Zuboff‘s In the Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Brett Frischmann and Evan Sellinger‘s Re-Engineering Humanity, Jaron Lanier,’s You are Not a Gadget (and pretty much everything else he’s written), plus what Nicholas Carr, David Weinberger, and many others have been saying for years.

The problem with most of what’s been written so far is that it assumes customers will remain victims unless companies or governments (and mostly the latter) rescue them. There is little sense that customers can also bring solutions to the market—ones that are good for every party involved.

One notable exception is Brett and Evan’s book, mentioned above, which closes with a hopeful nod toward some of our work here at Customer Commons:

Doc Searls and his colleagues at Customer Commons have been working for years on standardized terms for customers to use in managing their relationships with websites and other vendors… [his] dream of customers systematically using contract and related tools to manage their relationships with vendors now seems feasible. It could be an important first step toward flipping the scientific-management-of-consumers script we’ve become so accustomed to.”

My own work here started with Linux Journal in 1994, and gained some notoriety with The Cluetrain Manifesto (co-written with David Weinberger, Christopher Locke and Rick Levine) in 1999. Then, after notoriety didn’t seem to be working, I launched ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center in 2006, and in 2012spun out Customer Commons, which since then has quietly been developing on the personal data usage terms Brett and Evan mentioned above.

These are terms that each of us can proffer, and which the businesses of the world can agree to—as an alternative to the reverse, which has become a bane of online existence, alas made worse by normalization of insincere and misleading cookie notices on the Web, caused by (what we regard as a misreading of) the GDPR: a sad example of policy failing to fix a market problem. (So far. In another post we’ll visit ways the GDPR and California’s CCPA might actually help.)

The term third force has multiple uses already, the most common of which seem especially relevant our work here:

  •  “A group of people or nations that mediates between two opposed groups…” —  Free Dictionary
  • (A humanistic psychology that) focuses on inner needs, happiness, fulfillment, the search for identity, and other distinctly human concerns. Psychology: An Introduction, by Russell A. Dewey, PhD

Since customers and citizens are opposed to neither business nor government, but constantly look for positive outcomes in their dealings and relationships with both, third force works.

— Doc Searls

 

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Privacy is personal. Let’s start there.

The GDPR won’t give us privacy. Nor will ePrivacy or any other regulation. We also won’t get it from the businesses those regulations are aimed at.

Because privacy is personal. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t have invented clothing and shelter, or social norms for signaling to each what’s okay and what’s not okay.

On the Internet we have none of those. We’re still as naked as we were in Eden.

But let’s get some perspective here:  we invented clothing and shelter long before we invented history, and most of us didn’t get online until long after Internet service providers and graphical browsers showed up in 1994.

In these early years, it has been easier and more lucrative for business to exploit our exposed selves than it has been for technology makers to sew (and sell) us the virtual equivalents of animal skins and woven fabrics.

True, we do have the primitive shields called ad blockers and tracking protectors. And, when shields are all you’ve got, they can get mighty popular. That’s why 1.7 billion people on Earth were already blocking ads online by early 2017.† This made ad blocking the largest boycott in human history. (Note: some ad blockers also block tracking, but the most popular ad blocker is in the business of selling passage for tracking to companies whose advertising is found “acceptable” on grounds other than tracking.)

In case you think this happened just because most ads are “intrusive” or poorly targeted, consider the simple fact that ad blocking has been around since 2004, yet didn’t hockey-stick until the advertising business turned into direct response marketing, hellbent on collecting personal data and targeting ads at eyeballs.††

This happened in the late ’00s, with the rise of social media platforms and programmatic “adtech.” Euphemized by its perpetrators as  “interactive,” “interest-based,” “behavioral” and “personalized,” adtech was, simply-put, tracking-based advertising. Or, as I explain at the last link direct response marketing in the guise of advertising.

The first sign that people didn’t like tracking was Do Not Track, an idea hatched by  Chris Soghoian, Sid Stamm, and Dan Kaminsky, and named after the FTC’s popular Do Not Call Registry. Since browsers get copies of Web pages by requesting them (no, we don’t really “visit” those pages—and this distinction is critical), the idea behind Do Not Track was to make to put the request not to be tracked in the header of a browser. (The header is how a browser asks to see a Web page, and then guides the data exchanges that follow.)

Do Not Track was first implemented in 2009 by Sid Stamm, then a privacy engineer at Mozilla, as an option in the company’s Firefox browser. After that, the other major browser makers implemented Do Not Track in different ways at different times, culminating in Mozilla’s decision to block third party cookies in Firefox, starting in February 2013.

Before we get to what happened next, bear in mind that Do Not Track was never anything more than a polite request to have one’s privacy respected. It imposed no requirements on site owners. In other words, it was a social signal asking site owners and their third party partners to respect the simple fact that browsers are personal spaces, and that publishers and advertisers’ rights end at a browser’s front door.

The “interactive” ad industry and its dependents in publishing responded to that brave move by stomping on Mozilla like Gozilla on Bambi:

In this 2014 post  I reported on the specifics how that went down:

Google and Facebook both said in early 2013 that they would simply ignore Do Not Track requests, which killed it right there. But death for Do Not Track was not severe enough for the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which waged asymmetric PR warfare on Mozilla (the only browser maker not run by an industrial giant with a stake in the advertising business), even running red-herring shit like this on its client publishers websites:

As if Mozilla was out to harm “your small business,” or that any small business actually gave a shit.

And it worked.

In early 2013, Mozilla caved to pressure from the IAB.

Two things followed.

First, soon as it was clear that Do Not Track was a fail, ad blocking took off. You can see that in this Google Trends graph†††, published in Ad Blockers and the Next Chapter of the Internet (5 November 2015 in Harvard Business Review):

Next, ad searches for “how to block ads” rose right in step with searches for retargeting, which is the most obvious evidence that advertising is following you around:

You can see that correlation in this Google Trends graph in Don Marti’s Ad Blocking: Why Now, published by DCN (the online publishers’ trade association) on 9 July 2015:

Measures of how nearly all of us continue to hate tracking were posted by Dr. Johnny Ryan (@johnnyryan) in PageFair last September. In that post, he reports on a PageFair “survey of 300+ publishers, adtech, brands, and various others, on whether users will consent to tracking under the GDPR and the ePrivacy Regulation.” Bear in mind that the people surveyed were industry insiders: people you would expect to exaggerate on behalf of continued tracking.

Here’s one result:

Johnny adds, “Only a very small proportion (3%) believe that the average user will consent to ‘web-wide’ tracking for the purposes of advertising (tracking by any party, anywhere on the web).” And yet the same survey reports “almost a third believe that users will consent if forced to do so by tracking walls,” that deny access to a website unless a visitor agrees to be tracked.”

He goes on to add, “However, almost a third believe that users will consent if forced to do so by ‘tracking walls”, that deny access to a website unless a visitor agrees to be tracked. Tracking walls, however, are prohibited under Article 7 of the GDPR, the rules of which are already formalised and will apply in law from late May 2018.[3] “

Which means that the general plan by the “interactive” advertising business is to put up those walls anyway, on the assumption that people will think they won’t get to a site’s content without consenting to tracking. We can read that in the subtext of IAB Europe‘s Transparency and Consent Framework, a work-in-progress you can follow here on Github., and read unpacked in more detail at AdvertisingConsent.eu.

So, to sum all this up, so far online what we have for privacy are: 1) popular but woefully inadequate ad blocking and tracking protection add-ons in our browsers; 2) a massively interesting regulation called the GDPR…

… and 3) plans by privacy violators to obey the letter of that regulation while continuing to violate its spirit.

So how do we fix this on the personal side? Meaning, what might we have for clothing and shelter, now that regulators and failed regulatory captors are duking it out in media that continue to think all the solutions to our problems will come from technologies and social signals other than our own?

Glad you asked. The answers will come in our next three posts here. We expect those answers to arrive in the world and have real effects—for everyone except those hellbent on tracking us—before the 25 May GDPR deadline for compliance.


† From Beyond ad blocking—the biggest boycott in human history: “According to PageFair’s 2017 Adblock Report, at least 615 million devices now block ads. That’s larger than the human population of North America. According to GlobalWebIndex, 37% of all mobile users, worldwide, were blocking adsby January of last year, and another 42% would like to. With more than 4.6 billion mobile phone usersin the world, that means 1.7 billion people are blocking ads already—a sum exceeding the population of the Western Hemisphere.”

†† It was plain old non-tracking-based advertising that not only only sponsored publishing and other ad-suported media, but burned into people’s heads nearly every brand you can name. After a $trillion or more has been spent chasing eyeballs, not one brand known to the world has been made by it. For lots more on all this, read everything you can by Bob Hoffman (@AdContrarian) and Don Marti (@dmarti).

††† Among the differences between the graph above and the current one—both generated by the same Google Trends search—are readings above zero in the latter for Do Not Track prior to 2007. While there are results in a search for “Do Not Track” in the 2004-2006 time frame, they don’t refer to the browser header approach later branded and popularized as Do Not Track.

Also, in case you’re reading this footnote, the family at the top is my father‘s. He’s the one on the left. The location was Niagara Falls and the year was 1916. Here’s the original. I flipped it horizontally so the caption would look best in the photo.

 

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How customers help companies comply with the GDPR

That’s what we’re starting this Thursday (26 April) at GDPR Hack Day at MIT.

The GDPR‘s “sunrise day” — when the EU can start laying fines on companies for violations of it — is May 25th. We want to be ready for that: with a cookie of our own baking that will get us past the “gauntlet walls” of consent requirements that are already appearing on the world’s commercial websites—especially the ad-supported ones.

The reason is this:

Which you can also see in a search for GDPR.

Most of the results in that search are about what companies can do (or actually what companies can do for companies, since most results are for companies doing SEO to sell their GDPR prep services).

We propose a simpler approach: do what the user wants. That’s why the EU created the GDPR in the first place. Only in our case, we can start solving in code what regulation alone can’t do:

  1. Un-complicate things (for example, relieving sites of the need to put up a wall of permissions, some of which are sure to obtain grudging “consent” to the same awful data harvesting practices that caused the GDPR in the firs place).
  2. Give people a good way to start signaling their intentions to websites—especially business-friendly ones
  3. Give advertisers a safe way to keep doing what they are doing, without unwelcome tracking
  4. Open countless new markets by giving individuals better ways of signaling what they want from business, starting with good manners (which went out the window when all the tracking and profiling started)

What we propose is a friendly way to turn off third party tracking at all the websites a browser encounters requests for permission to track, starting with a cookie that will tell the site, in effect, first party tracking for site purposes is okay, but third party tracking is not.

If all works according to plan, that cookie will persist from site to site, getting the browser past many gauntlet walls. It will also give all those sites and their techies a clear signal of intention from the user’s side. (All this is subject to revision and improvement as we hack this thing out.)

This photo of the whiteboard at our GDPR session at IIW on April 5th shows how wide ranging and open our thinking was at the time:

Photos from the session start here. Click on your keyboard’s right (>) arrow to move through them. Session notes are on the IIW wiki here.

Here is the whiteboard in outline form:

Possible Delivery Paths

Carrots

  • Verifiable credential to signal intent
  • Ads.txt replaced by a more secure system + faster page serving
  • For publishers:
    • Ad blocking decreases
    • Subscriptions increase
    • Sponsorship becomes more attractive
  • For advertisers
    • Branding—the real kind, where pubs are sponsored directly—can come back
    • Clearly stated permissions from “data subjects” for “data processors” and “data controllers” (those are GDPR labels)
    • Will permit direct ads (programmatic placement is okay; just not based on surveillance)
    • Puts direct intentcasting from data subject (users) on the table, replacing adtech’s spying and guesswork with actual customer-driven leads and perhaps eventually a shopping cart customers take from site to site
    • Liability reduction or elimination
    • Risk management
    • SSI (self-sovereign identity) / VC (verified credential) approach —> makes demonstration of compliance automateable (for publishers and ad creative)
    • Can produce a consent receipt that works for both sides
    • Complying with a visitor’s cookie is a lot easier than hiring expensive lawyers and consultants to write gauntlet walls that violate the spirit of the GDPR while obtaining grudging compliance from users with the letter of it

Sticks

  • The GDPR, with ePrivacy right behind it, and big fines that are sure to come down
  • A privacy manager or privacy dashboard on the user’s side, with real scale across multiple sites, is inevitable. This will help bring one into the world, and sites should be ready for it.
  • Since ample research (University of Pennsylvania, AnnenbergPageFair) has made clear that most users do not want to be tracked, browser makers will be siding eventually, inevitably, with those users by amplifying tracking protections. The work we’re doing here will help guide that work—for all browser makers and add-on developers

Participating organizations (some onboard, some partially through individuals)

Sources

Additions and corrections to all the above are welcome.

So is space somewhere in Cambridge or Boston to continue discussions and hackings on Friday, April 27th.

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The Only Way Customers Come First

— is by proffering terms of their own.

That’s what will happen when sites and services click “accept” to your terms, rather than the reverse.

The role you play here is what lawyers call the first party. Sites and services that agree to your terms are second parties.

As a first party, you get scale across all the sites and services that agree to your terms:

This the exact reverse of what we’ve had in mass markets ever since industry won the industrial revolution. But we can get that scale now, because we have the Internet, which was designed to support it. (Details here and here.)

And now is the time, for two reasons:

  1. We can make our leadership pay off for sites and services; and
  2. Agreeing with us can make sites and services compliant with tough new privacy laws.

Our first example is P2B1(beta), which might best be called #NoProfiling:

With #NoProfiling, we proffer a term that says—

This does a bunch of good things for advertising supported sites:

  1. It relieves them of the need to track us like animals everywhere we go, and harvest personal data we’d rather not give anybody without our permission.
  2. Because of #1, it gives them compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (aka GDPR), which allows fines of “up to 10,000,000 EUR or up to 2% of the annual worldwide turnover of the preceding financial year in case of an enterprise, whichever is greater (Article 83, Paragraph 4),” or “a fine up to 20,000,000 EUR or up to 4% of the annual worldwide turnover of the preceding financial year in case of an enterprise, whichever is greater (Article 83, Paragraph 5 & 6).”
  3. It provides simple and straightforward “brand safety” directly from human beings, rather than relying on an industry granfalloon to do the same.
  4. It lets good publishers sell advertising to brands that want to sponsor journalism rather than chase eyeballs to the cheapest, shittiest sites.
  5. It provides a valuable economic signal from demand to supply in the open marketplace.

We’ll have other terms. As with #NoProfiling, those will also align incentives.

 

 

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Time for THEM to agree to OUR terms

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 12.12.45 PM

We can do for everybody what Creative Commons does for artists: give them terms they can offer—and be can read and agreed to by lawyers, ordinary folks, and their machines. And then we can watch “free market” come to mean what it says, and not just “your choice of captor.”

Try to guess how many times, in the course of your life in the digital world, have “agreed” to terms like these:

URsoScrewed

Hundreds? Thousands? (Feels like) millions?

Look at the number of login/password combinations remembered by your browser. That’ll be a fraction of the true total.

Now think about what might happen if we could turn these things around. How about if sites and services could agree to our terms and conditions, and our privacy policies?

We’d have real agreements, and real relationships, freely established, between parties of equal power who both have an interest in each other’s success.

We’d have genuine (or at least better) trust, and better signaling of intentions between both parties. We’d have better exchanges of information and better control over what gets done with that information. And the information would be better too, because we wouldn’t have to lie or hide to protect our identities or our data.

We’d finally have the only basis on which the Seven Laws of Identity, issued by Kim Cameron in 2005, would actually work. Check ’em out:

laws

Think about it. None of those work unless individuals are in charge of themselves and their relationships in the digital world. And they can’t as long as only one side is in charge. What we have instead are opposites: limited control and coerced consent, maximum disclosure for unconstrained use, unjustified parties, misdirected identity, silo’d operators and technologies, inhuman integration, and inconsistent experiences across contexts of all kinds. (I’ll add links for all of those later when I have time.)

Can we fix this problem, eleven years after Kim came down from the mountain (well, Canada) with those laws?

No, we can’t. Not without leverage.

The sad fact is that we’ve been at a disadvantage since geeks based the Web on an architecture called “client-server.” I’ve been told that term was chosen because “slave-master” didn’t sound so good. Personally, I prefer calf-cow:

calf-cow

As long as we’re the calves coming to the cows for the milk of “content” (plus unwanted cookies), we’re not equals.

But once we become independent, and can assert enough power to piss off the cows that most want to take advantage of us, the story changes.

Good news: we are independent now, and controlling our own lives online is pissing off the right cows.

We’re gaining that independence through ad and tracking blockers. There are also a lot of us now. And a lot more jumping on the bandwagon.

According to PageFair and Adobe, the number of people running ad blockers alone passed 200 million last May, with annual growth rates of 41% in the world, 48% the U.S. and 82% in the U.K. alone.

Of course the “interactive” ad industry (the one that likes to track you) considers this a problem only they can solve. And, naturally, the disconnect between their urge to track and spam us, and our decision to stop all of it, is being called a “war.”

But it doesn’t have to be.

Out in the offline world, we were never at war with advertising. Sure, there’s too much of it, and a lot of it we don’t like. But we also know we wouldn’t have sports broadcasts (or sports talk radio) without it. We know how much advertising contributes to the value of the magazines and newspapers we read. (Which is worth more: a thick or a thin Vogue, Sports Illustrated, Bride’s or New York Times?) And to some degree we actually value what old fashioned Mad Men type advertising brings to the market’s table.

On the other hand, we have always been at war with the interactive form of advertising we call junk mail. Look up unwanted+mail, click on “images,” and and you’ll get something like this:

unwantedmail

What’s happened online is that the advertising business has turned into the “interactive”  junk message business. Only now you can’t tell the difference between an ad that’s there for everybody and one that’s aimed by crosshairs at your eyeballs.

The difference between real advertising and tracking-based junk messages is the same as that between wheat and chaff.

Today’s ad and tracking blockers are are primitive prophylactics: ways to protect our eyeballs from advertising and tracking. But how about if we turn these into instruments of agreement? We could agree to allow the kind of ads that pay the publisher and aren’t aimed at us by tracking.

Here at Customer Commons we’ve been working on those kinds of terms for the last several years. Helping us have been law school students and teachers, geeks and ordinary folks. Last we publishe a straw man version of those terms, they looked like this:

UserSubmittedTerms1stDraft

What those say (in the green circles) is “You (the second party) alone can use data you get from me, for as long as you want, just for your site or app, and will obey the Do Not Track request from my browser.”

This can be read easily by lawyers, ordinary folks and machines on both sides, just the way the graphic at the top of this post, borrowed from Creative Commons (or model for this), describes.

We’re also not alone.

Joining us in this effort are the Identity Ecosystem Working Group, the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium, the Consent and Information Sharing Working Group (which is working on a Consent Receipt to give agreements a way to be recorded by both parties), Mozilla and others on the ProjectVRM Development Work list.

Many people from those groups (including Kim Cameron himself) will be at IIW, the Internet Identity Workshop, at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, on the last week of next month, April 26-28. It’s an unconference. No panels, no keynotes, no plenaries. It’s all breakouts, on topics chosen by participants.

The day before, at the same location, will be VRM Day. The main topic there will be terms, and how we plan to get working versions of them in the next three days at IIW.

This is a huge opportunity. I am sure we have enough code, and enough done work on standards and the rest of it, to put up exactly the terms we can offer and publishers online can accept, and will start to end the war (that really isn’t) between publishers and their readers.

Once we have those terms in place, others can follow, opening up to much better signaling between supply and demand, because both sides are equals.

So this is an open invitation to everybody already working in this space, especially browser makers (and not just Mozilla) and the ad and tracking blockers. IIW is a perfect place to show to show what we’ve got, to work together, and to move things forward.

Let’s do it.

 

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