There is an interesting post over at Benlog about the unprecedented uses data mining is being put to:
Here’s one story that blew my mind a few months ago. Facebook (and I don’t mean to pick on Facebook, they just happen to have a lot of data) introduced a feature that shows you photos from your past you haven’t seen in a while. Except, that turned out to include a lot of photos of ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends, and people complained. But here’s the thing: Facebook photos often contain tags of people present in the photo. And you’ve told Facebook about your relationships over time (though it’s likely that, even if you didn’t, they can probably guess from your joint social network activity.) So what did Facebook do? They computed the graph of ex-relationships, and they ensured that you are no longer proactively shown photos of your exes. They did this in a matter of days. Think about that one again: in a matter of days, they figured out all the romantic relationships that ever occurred between their 600M+ users. The power of that knowledge is staggering, and if what I hear about Facebook is correct, that power is in just about every Facebook engineer’s hands.
The potential for exposing your connections to other people, simply by volunteering information is huge, and now, even exposing your face on a friend’s camera can cause you to be involuntarily entered (actually captured) in this net. Make no mistake, every other company that you use to send email or host photos or do anything where your personal data is stored is using the same techniques.
In the future, there will come a tipping point, where this sort of thing is less possible, because new services and attitudes are going to arise that make them difficult to do.
In the past, no one cared about fiat currency and the Federal Reserve. Discussions about it were limited to academics in universities. Now, every taxi driver and hot dog stand owner knows about the true nature of the dollar and government issued money.
Today, no one cares much about putting all their private details and connections to other people into Facebook. When the privacy tipping point comes, a successor to Facebook is going to emerge that is centred on strong privacy. That successor will not use your real identity to render its services to you. It will promise not to abuse your data, and in fact, they will not have your data to abuse, because at this tipping point, people will understand what handing over a family photo to a website (for example) actually means; violating everyone in your family and all their social connections.
These new services will use a mixture of disposable identities, cryptography and policy to make sure that you have control over what is and is not connected to you. Those who want to take advantage of intimate exposure of all their personal data will still be free to do that (and the State, obviously, should have no say in how people contract with private companies) and just as MySpace is dying now, in the future, those tell all, expose all services will seem antiquated, dangerous and untrustworthy.
The human need for anonymity and privacy is deeply rooted in the nature of man. The corrosive unease created by surveillance is evidence of it; just ask anyone who gets off of a plane in the ‘third world’ where there are no CCTV cameras about how it feels to be free of the all seeing eyes that follow you everywhere in the ‘civilized’ world. Its a feeling of a heavy, suppressive weight being lifted from you; a feeling of liberty.
This all goes back to what you actually need to provide a service. Do you really need to have a person’s real name to accept a post from them? Do you really need to log a user in to accept a contribution? Do you really have to expose their telephone number, name or any other true data about them to accomplish your task? Already we have seen a great informational tool (Wikipedia) that does not name its contributors unless they choose to log in, and even then, that information is not a part of the product they produce.
When this tipping point comes, all the tools needed will be available and free; the privacy revolution will cause all surveillance to go dark without removing any of the functionality of the tools we need to use. For example, no one will be able to read email in transit or while it sits on your cloud server, but you will still be able to send and receive email seamlessly.
Upingme is one of these services; you can sent group SMS texts without anyone knowing your identity. You can post messages and receive replies anonymously. If you choose to reveal information about yourself, we leave that matter to you, and of course, once you delete your information from our service, its gone forever.
We can provide the entire service without ever revealing to anyone who you are. Its the kind of service that we like to use ourselves which is exactly why we built it the way we did.
Data promiscuity is unhealthy. Like dangerous laws enacted by benevolent governments, data promiscuity leaves behind it a nasty tool that can be used against you at any time in the future.
One day, people are going to wake up to this, and the howls for the permanent deletion of their data are going to very very loud indeed.
…and right on que:
“Facebook fatigue sets in for 100,000 Brits: Users bored with site deactivate accounts amid privacy fears”