Friday, April 5, 2013

Facebook Home and privacy concerns

Facebook announced Facebook Home application yesterday, and there have been discussions around what this means to Facebook users.  Om Malik wrote about how Facebook Home will be used to track user information without their consent.  Robert Scoble responded with how benefits will outweigh the loss of privacy, asking privacy-concerned users to get used to being constantly tracked.  After reading these articles, it made me think about what it all means to me the user.

Privacy concern is real.  We are all being tracked, and it is only going to increase.  At least both Malik and Scoble agree with that trend.  With proliferation of connected mobile devices with camera, GPS and dozen other sensors, we are generating more data than ever before.  And the trend is accelerating.

I don't think anyone fully realizes what it means.  That's because we never lived in a world where most of everything that we do are tracked, aggregated and analyzed.

Yet this is not an entirely new phenomenon.  Each time new major technology shift happened we had to adjust our way of life, and life went on.  When movable type and printing press were invented, ruling elites were concerned that they would no longer be able to monopolize the knowledge, and took measures to censor and limit the reproduction of printed materials.  When nuclear bomb was invented and dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Americans and Russians thought that having more nuclear bombs would give them greater power to control the other.

What is undeniable is that our yesterday's notion of privacy as we knew them will no longer be applicable very soon.  Digital identities on Internet will be extension of our real identities by default.  In addition it will have lots of data about us than we ever care to admit.  That is going to be the future.  Anonymity will only be available to those who actively hides their identities, and even then the odds are stacked in favor of data collectors and marketers.

We are all going to have to deal with our digital identities.  Unlike our real-life identities, they are permanent and traceable.  They are just different from real-life identities.  We never had to deal with identities that could be mass collected, easily replicated and analyzed.

I think we will all eventually learn to deal with this change.  Just like we got used to the idea of printed books and nuclear weapons, we'll come to accept the fact that we'll be tracked and the data will be collected about us.

But what's important is that we should all be aware of what data is being collected, and when we can decide to get off the tracking by companies that we deal with.  It's going to be about trust between the company and the users.

Concerns about privacy is about the concerns of missing trust.  Because there is no history of how the massive data about us is going to be used (for us, against us, or, most likely, for someone else's gain), we have to be able to trust the company who collects our information.

The debate about privacy concern is fundamentally about loss of users' trust.

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