Identity Theft or Data Portability

by francine Hardaway on May 17, 2008

Whoa, Nellie. I have never heard Robert Scoble get angry before. But this morning, as I prepared to have my weekly laugh with The Gillmor Gang on the elliptical cross trainer, I heard the same decibel-level discourse I heard on Hardball with Chris Matthews this week. And what was it about?

It was about data. Who can get passionate about the subject of data. The answer: everybody. It is the biggest issue on the internet as we all become users of interactive websites, rich Internet applications, and smart phones. Who owns your data? In Facebook? On MySpace? In Google? And even in Microsoft Outlook? You would like to think you own it, rather than any of the companies above. That fight is still being fought.

But there’s another, more complicated question. Who owns your data when you friend someone? Him? You? This is an extremely important conversation — so much so that Robert, after getting really angry with Mike Arrington, went and took a shower and came back to the call.

It’s very complex. I see this every day as I coach non-techies about social media. Their biggest issue is “if I put my information out there, how can I protect it. How can I dictate who gets to use it?”

Unfortunately, for anyone really interested in privacy, the genie got out of the bottle with the universal adoption of email in corporations. For corporate types and for most indiviuals, privacy isn’t really an option. And younger people have grown up without privacy, so don’t even see its importance the way older folks do.

Think about it. You give someone your email address, which we almost all do when we exchange business cards even if we don’t live on a computer. When you give someone a business card, you give him/her tacit permission to contact you. So they do, and they include a few other people in the email. And now those people, too, have your information — even if you didn’t WANT them to have it.

Now let’s assume that person has a Gmail account. Now that information is off your desktop and your correspondents’ and on the Internet.

Now it can go “into the wild.” Facebook has tried to prevent this by not allowing anyone to export their “social graph” (the information about them and their Facebook friends) outside Facebook.

But now there’s a new initiative called Data Portability, which says I own all the information about my Facebook friends and should be able to take it with me to the other sites I like. After all, it’s “my” social graph. However, it may be “your” email address and you may not want me carting it around the Internet. You may not feel that “any friend of Francine’s is a friend of mine.”

I think the person who came closest on the Gillmor Gang to saying what i think I think (no, that’s not a mistake; I’m not sure yet what I think) about this issue was Steve Gillmor. He said that the data belongs to the relationship between you and me.

And that is an even MORE complicated notion. In plain English, there’s not much difference between identity theft and data portability except in the ethical framework of the beholder.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jack Kessler May 18, 2008 at 9:26 am

I think either I or Francine missed a step in the argument here. The conventional means of avoiding disclosing any address but your own is the bcc: This has been around so long that bcc: stands for blind carbon copy. I have never seen a mail client that didn’t have it.

Systems mavens like Francine’s colleagues know about this, so there is some step in the discussion of the discussion that was left out because it was too obvious to mention. Too obvious to them maybe, but not…..

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