Words, actions, privacy.

Ember

Image: My medieval public identity…

It used to be when users kicked up a fuss, social networks quaked and gave way to their demands.

Then Facebook began a kind of two-steps-forward / user outcry / one-step-back dance with privacy and user data.

These days, as the market has matured and the incumbents feel a little more settled, their networks seem a little too hard to opt out of for users.

In a recent New York Times article about Google+, Google’s Bradley Horowitz said: “We are attuned to both what people say and what people do.”

How I read that: sure, we hear a lot of complaining, but no one’s voting with their virtual feet.

Users complain about the forcing upon them of a Google+ identity, but they don’t do much about it. They don’t close down their Gmail, start using other search engines, give YouTube a swerve. Not many of them. Not enough of them to worry about.

To data driven Google, an outcry on Twitter and in opinion articles is largely noise. People stopping using their services would be a strong signal – and they just aren’t seeing that.

I can think of a couple of people who have opted out of Facebook (a couple out of the few hundred people I’m connected to there).

As for Google, I have only met one refusenik so far – and heard tell of others in the online activist community.

Two questions come to mind:

  1. Will governments and brands begin to follow this logic? Petitions and online slacktivism, as one-click protests are derisively labelled by some, aren’t always going to signal real behaviour changes – boycotts, votes, spending money elsewhere.
  2. Are people who are opting out of Google and Facebook the start of a movement toward “de-clouding”, rejecting handing their personal data over to large corporations? It’s too early to tell whether this will remain fringe dissent or whether it will begin to spread. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and, to some extent, Apple and Amazon (the “stacks“) will be aiming to make sure the massive utility value of their services outweighs fear and suspicion of their stewardship of our data.

Online security expert Bruce Schneier calls entrusting our data to the stacks “feudal security”, a theme picked up by Aral Balkan recently in his TEDxBrighton talk.

Feaudalism works, you could argue. It worked for thousands of years. Quite apart from inequality and fairness though, feudalism kills progress – it causes stagnation, homegeneity, stasis.

I guess what Schneier and Balkan are pointing out with the feudalism metaphor is that this is a kind of opt-in feudalism – it doesn’t have to be that way. Actually, as I sit here typing into a Chrome Browser, on an iMac, before turning to my Gmail etc. – you realise that it’s no opt-in, it’s something you have to put a great deal of effort and time into opting out of…

: : As an aside, I’d be a lot more likely to use Google+ more often if I didn’t have two identities there. Reflecting on the “forcing users to have a single Google+ identity” strand in this post as I edited it, I realise – I’d love a single identity. Can I have one, please?

My work and personal email are both on Gmail, so I have two lots of circles, etc. Reminds me of this tweet I favorited [sic] the other day:

 

 

 

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  • Scott Lawson

    Google+ does need to somehow sort out the multiple personality problem it gives you. Then again it does give you the flexibility of splitting your work/personal life. Problem is often you’re logged into both and connect with whoever connects you, sometimes accidentally just so you can IM them.

    As for the “owning your data issue”, the best analogy is banks. Or best perhaps to think of traditional old fashioned banking rather than modern banking. You could put all your cash under the bed so the bank or anyone else can’t touch it. But with that comes responsibility of securing it, which is a task very complicated for the average person. Before “cloud” storage solutions like Dropbox and Gmail people had to keep copies on external hard drives and would forever lose data. Remember 2mb Hotmail accounts? Having to download your inbox to make room for more? These companies solved the problem of data lose and storage. If you lose your laptop, or phone, you haven’t lost your data forever. Although preferably you use encryption software so a random person will just format it and use the hardware, rather than your data. However they’ve been numerous cases of Government officials leaving unencrypted sensitive data on trains which is beyond belief.

    If it wasn’t for the fact that people are so used to the “freemium” model, there wouldn’t be this big problem with people being the product for sale in these social networks. If, from the beginning, people were happy with paying £5/month for all the services Google offer, just as you pay money for your broadband connection, Sky etc, then they wouldn’t be so focused on how they can use your data to sell you targetted ads. I did read somewhere that was about the figure Google makes per person through advertising.

    I don’t think Google, Apple, Microsoft are working secretly with the US or UK Governments and aren’t the enemy. In fact, they are powerful enough to stand up to Government spying and prevent it, much more so than independent providers, or people trying to do it themselves.

    Encrypt anything that’s extremely sensitive (that could mean IP, creative works, or anything you don’t want others to know about). The only problem with this is if you lose the key, and it’s the only copy or all copies are encrypted the same, bye bye data! Although almost every encryption method can make cracked with enough time and processing power.

    So really it’s about having your own levels of data privacy (like Governments, with top secret, classified info), right down to data that isn’t that private.

    People have a false belief of the security of email. In fact, if you have gmail conversations with other gmail users the information is a lot more private & secure than between other providers. As generally the email will travel through unencrypted means and be readable by anyone who it passes and wants to read it.

    Sometimes being overly concerned about something can lead to people making badly informed decisions based on fear, like elderly people storing a stash of cash under the bed, and losing it all in a house fire. At least the banks didn’t get a penny, but neither did you.