Way back when, I’d written a brief post about Google’s laser-guided missiles. In short, I’d argued that, as Google’s services become more pervasive, the more of our behavior they could monitor and mine for more targeted advertising. The more they watch, the more accurately they can target us. This all isn’t necessarily a bad thing…except that hardly anyone knows how or where Google is watching them.
Enter Facebook. Of late, Facebook has been taking some slack for the Facebook Beacon. It effectively allows third parties to pass along to Facebook something about your activity on their sites. After, say a Fandango purchase, Fandango pings Facebook back with what you’ve just done. If you subsequently visit Facebook, you’ll find your action for all to see (“all” being anyone that can see your feed).
So now, not only are all our actions being monitored (thanks Google for kicking that one off) our activity is being shared among third parties without our knowledge (thanks Facebook).
All of this isn’t inherently bad on its face. The problem lies in how all this stuff is happening behind our backs. We need to draft some sort of Bill of Rights for web users that services like Google or Facebook can opt into. Something like:
- [Service] shall, clearly and in plain English, explain to users precisely which of the user’s activity they will be monitoring.
- [Service] shall, clearly and in plain English, notify users if anything about their activity is shared with other services.
- [Service] shall provide all users with a simple and clearly visible way to opt out of having any facet of our activity monitored or shared with third parties.
- [Service] shall provide all users with a simple and clearly accessible way to purge all data about their activity. If a user’s activity data is purged, [service] shall guarantee that all purged data is destroyed and unrecoverable.
The above is by no means exhaustive but it at least starts the conversation around what we’re unwittingly giving up for all this power and convenience.
In many ways, the Internet is viewed as an extension of existing media (“New Media”). Such a framing fails to recognize how much of a departure the Web really is. Radio and television are passive. I’m not even sure my cable company knows what I record on my DVR box. The Web is a whole other animal. We need some sort of checking mechanism so various services can speak to, market, differentiate and recognize that we understand that there is a cost for all this cool free stuff.
Just as we feel slightly more comfortable when we see a Better Business Bureau seal or a Verisign logo, I’d like to see these services displaying (or paying the price for not displaying) a similar insignia: “We Adhere To…”
Today, these conversations around privacy bubble up and you’ll hear the usual “hmmm…that’s creepy” comments. I don’t think that’s really going to address much. It’s good business for the likes of Google and Facebook to let the chatter die down and just get on with life as usual. What’s needed is a framework and a standard for them to adhere to.