Rethinking Privacy

by Ric Merrifield

Bynamite – Is it the modern day Madonna-Whore complex?

by Ric Merrifield

Rethinking PrivacyBynamite

Reputationdefender

MyIDPal

Abine

Foursquare

. . .even Zillow

Not familiar with these companies? You should be, because they are plotting the course for the future of internet privacy and how we interact with people and merchants.

Bynamite is just the latest and there is a very good article about them here. In short, Bynamite has (correctly, in my opinion) seen that each time we conduct a search on the internet, the search itself is a transaction because it gives merchants and the search engines more information about our interests, tastes, and needs. Bynamite also thinks that this sort of profile information will in short order play a very real role in the prices we pay for goods and the kinds of coupons we get. I think they are right about that as well – and this by itself is one of the most fundamental changes in the world of commerce to come along in a very long time – a set of one, or many, micro transactions prior to the primary transaction(s) that then inform the price we pay for future transactions – in essence context-rich transactions.

This is already a reality in grocery stores, but that’s fairly two dimensional compared to what we are going to see in the future. By that I mean that the grocery store knows about the food decisions of our household (and gives us GREAT discounts based on that) while merchants want to know everything about what we buy so that they have a sense of whether to flat out ignore us or whether to woo us, or something in between.

In the context of Zillow, the web site that aims to keep track of the value of every house, allows the owner of the house to correct information about the home, such as updating the number of bedrooms after a remodel, which has a direct impact on the value of the house. Only the current owner of the house can make these changes, but it’s a very similar concept to Bynamite in the sense the people get to update information about “themselves” with Zillow being limited to our houses.

But there’s a big problem.

While on the one hand, we see people putting themselves out in public like never before, from blogs to YouTube, even Facebook, that is a side of “us” that has given us privacy. I will concede that it’s much more true of the younger generation than the older generations, with some crossover on both sides, but the notion of “We Live In Public” depicted in Ondi Timoners film seems to be getter more true than ever.

But how do we balance this intense growth in the desire to be out there in public to have the 15 minutes of fame, not just once, but every single day as Josh Harris says in Timoner’s film, with this seemingly equally strong drive to be as private as possible?

Enter the modern day Madonna-Whore complex, which in the simplest terms is the case of the man who wants to be sleeping with the most sexual woman possible (whore), but publicly wants to be the woman who is so pure that you wouldn’t think if her in sexual terms (Lady Madonna, not the singer . . .).

That seems to be where we are with privacy today.

On the one hand we want to have total control over our privacy, but at the same time we want to be as public as possible. While these notions seem to be in conflict, I think this is at the heart of who is going to be successful in this arena. I think the way it will work is that we will have a “public” persona that will reflect whatever level of privacy we decide to have with the outside world and our friends, but on a transactional basis, that will be the “private” person that we keep to ourselves and whether that links to the book we buy on amazon or something more private, the “private” persona will not have our actual name attached to it, but instead will be an ID or a user name (much like a PayPal concept for our ID – which is what the highly secretive MyIDPal seems to be all about).

I expect this to be a moving target for some time, and the public/private line will be drawn very differently for different age groups in different cultures, but that’s where this is all going. Despite their 2 million users, I still think foursquare has drawn the line in the wrong place, but time will tell.

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Ric Merrifield is known at the “Business Scientist” at Microsoft Corporation in Redmond, WA and is the author of “Rethink“. He blogs about ways to rethink through getting out of what he calls “the ‘how’ trap”.

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  1. Discussed this with some friends yesterday, and had another thought – that this will not be an issue in a few years when the teens are grown ups. As they grow up with the idea or even standard of being public this will not be a problem in their future. When we are 80 we’ll be horrified over that our premier minister has images of herself partying with her friends as young, while her colleagues and followers will not see it as a problem. Everyone has.

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