Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tracking what people read is surveillance, not sharing

Last week Quora announced that it will start tracking who viewed your content by default.  When I checked my account today, I found that my Settings -> View option was turned on.  This meant that whatever I read would have been tracked by Quora and can be viewed by article contributors by default.

I suggest you turn off View sharing option on Quora today.
You can do that by opening Settings page and clicking 'No' on Views.

I can see how it could be interesting for writers to be able to see who's reading the posts.  But it's definitely too much information to be shared with everyone.  What I don't understand is the rationale of product designers who thought that exposing whatever articles that you read with everyone is okay thing to do.  To be fair, Quora says that they will be exposing readership information selectively and as user you can opt out at any time.  Still I don't understand how default setting of all posts that are read is acceptable.

When I look at this friction-less social sharing practice, closest thing that I compare to is tracking all articles that I read in magazines with my real identity.  If someone is shadowing you when you walk in to Barnes and Noble and look over your shoulder to see what magazines and articles that you read, you'll feel that your privacy has been violated.

In fact what Quora (and Facebook with social reader) is doing is even more draconian.  Quora is identifying each reading activity with your account so that they can share that information with someone who is willing to spend money to get to that information.  Marketers would love to get that info.  Instead of relying on spotty survey data, marketers can find out who read what post for how long and target their messages accordingly.

But this would be quite uncomfortable experience for users.  From user's perspective I think there are many happy mediums Quora can implement.  Here are some ideas:

1. Anonymize readership data so that marketer cannot identify reader but find out about demographics

2. Put an easy anonymous reading option so that readers can toggle to anonymous settings

3. Give incentives to readers to share their reading behavior by awarding them

4. Make it clear how long captured reading data will be kept

Tracking user's reading habits without providing these options, it's asking users to relinquish too much privacy without any guarantee of how all tracked information can be used.

No comments:

Post a Comment