Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Talking about Privacy

Google, Facebook, Twitter and many, many other Web 2.0 Applications are in constant focus of one big discussion: Privacy. In this post, I am going to discuss what collecting data means, who is collecting data and to what purpose. Further we generally discuss Online and Offline Privacy matters a little and finally draw astonishing, exciting and frightening conclusions.

First to make one thing clear: I am not stating in any way that Google, Facebook, etc are not collecting any User specific data - of course they are! I also don't want to relativate this data-collecting-spree or put lipstick on that pig, in fact, I believe we should have had a real privacy discussion as long as at least 20 years ago.

So to make once more clear: Everybody wants and collects your data. Why? Because its Business! And further? Because Business means making money. Therefore:

collecting your data = doing business = making money

which unmistakenably simplyfies to

your data = money

So that we now all agree that, when any company is collecting your data, they are only doing their business and want to make money from their business - naturally.

The reason why the "Privacy Issue" is exploding, and even people like me are discussing it, is simply put, technological advancement. First, we use more mobile Gadgets like Notebooks, Netbooks, Tablets, Smartphones, etc. with cheap Internet connection. Second, the Internet itself is nowadays not any more a place only for Geeks, Nerds, Dorks and other creatures living in dark cellars but has become an absolute necessity and lifestyle instrument. Third, with Facebook, Google Search and Wikipedia, even absolute technological-deniers are spending more and more time Online. And finally fourth, as 1GB storage today costs less than a pack of chewing gums, it is now no problem any more to store all data (even for smaller companies).

This means all our data are, for sure, already stored somewhere, but whats not yet mature and advanced enough are data-mining technologies and statistical algorithms to make effective use of this enormously huge amount of data and to find specific informations (at least not in an acceptable amount of time). But, the time is already approaching where this disability to efficiently use the stored data is ending. Just look at Google Insights. It is an absolutely fascinating and amazing development and let me made 1 important observation: Google is able to store ALL search-adherent data since 2004 which is quite a long time back. They already have the ability to store Geo Informations to any search term, and they will indeed be able to do much more "magic" with our data soon.

But I don't want to participate in the popular "Google & Facebook Privacy Bashing" for now. Because when you take a look at the Offline-world (some people claim this really exists ;-)), you will find some more eager data collectors. Just take a look at your Bank for example. In order to open a bank account - what is an absolute social need - you need to give them a lot of personal data, and do you really think they forget your data after approving your account? Next, take a look at your mobile phone carrier, they also want a lot of your personal data before they approve your nice phone and data flat rate. And don't say a mobile phone is NO social necessity nowadays.

The first difference between Facebook and your Bank is, that you MUST give the Bank (any Bank!!) your data to fulfil a basic social need (a bank account), but you are not forced to create a Facebook account, or search anything on Google. This is a volunarily action. And don't think your Bank isn't storing any piece of data it can grab from you, we've already seen that storage costs more or less nothing today. Whom would you trust more - Your Bank or Facebook? Honestly, I wouldn't trust neither of them.

Now another important part begins, what you might not have thought about yet (at least I hope so). Google and Facebook are often compared to a kraken when it comes to discussing Privacy and collecting Data, but how might Google call it? How is your Bank calling it? And how are countless other Companies calling it? The answer are the 3 magic letters CRM - Customer Relationship Managment. CRM is nothing else but collecting data about your customers to address their needs better than the competition. To address their personal needs better. Does that sound familiar to you?

The difference about Google and your mobile phone carrier is, that Google shows you, how good it knows you and your interests when it suggests advertisments to you or when it might suggest a restaurant, similiar to the one you looked for on the Internet (see my last post "Location based Everything"). Your mobile phone carrier doesn't show you all the Information they have gathered about you. But in fact, they are no different, in fact, no company that you are customer of, is.

So the frightening, exciting and astonishing conclusion is, that collecting data already has its meaning and name in CRM. I mentioned twice already that nowadays storage costs as good as nothing, therefore it is an easy thing to store all data you can get. So when we discuss Privacy matters any further we have to take our Banks and all other Companies into account. Discussing this topic is good and very, very important (see the speech, "Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity" by Danah Boyd at this years SXSW), but it should not only be about Facebook or Google.


  1. Interesting - but slightly blue-eyed.

    The problem is not the data given, but the usage of such data.

    My bank is legally obliged, NOT to pass my data on to third parties without my prior consent, which I can revoke at any time (in the EU that is more or less how the law goes anyway).

    Also what about the data u pass on about friends colleagues etc., who may not even have a facebook account?

    So u see the question is far more facetted, than u seem to think.

    In the end there is also the GREAT CONSPIRACY OF EVERYTHING AGAINST US:)

  2. You have a point there of course, banks and others may not pass data to thirds, but they are undeniably collecting data about you.

    You are, of course, right in the point, that on Facebook or Twitter, Personal Data are published, and therefore may be accessed by anyone and are also stored.

    What I primarily wanted to provoke is, that Google and Facebook are not the only ones to collect personal data, for whichever use.

    I don't feel well when I think that all my searches on Google are stored, and I feel equally unwell when I think that my bank stores my whole correspondence and transaction history.