Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Apple, iPods, and Personal Data Portability

By Dennis D. McDonald

I've been busy lately. My blogging has suffered. I've tried to update my blog's "daily notes" (located on my home page and archived here) but that's about it. I'm working offline on some longer white papers, I'm starting a new client project next week, I've been involved in a non-stop series of proposals and statements of work, and I've had to keep my plants watered during the drought here on the U.S. East Coast.

Meanwhile, there are some really interesting "tech" things going on. For example, the following is a series of items I added to my Daily Notes today:

  1. The Tag of the Day is Personal Data Ownership.
  2. According to Google Analytics, yesterday's most frequently visited post here was Learning to Use Google Analytics.
  3. From around the web:
    1. According to Naked Bif in his blog post OM6: Who Am I? there is a limit to how open we should be with our personal information online: "And we’re being further encouraged by places like Facebook to go ahead and tell the world all about ourselves. And that is a scary idea. Not because we have something to hide, but because it makes intimacy less meaningful for all of us by taking away the all important context."
    2. I think the most interesting thing about yesterday's Apple announcements was the ability to use some new iPods with iTunes "directly" via wireless without having to go via your own computer.
    3. Remember when new programs could be installed from a single floppy? ("Daddy, what's a 'floppy'?") I just downloaded the new iTunes -- 54 MB!!! Anyone want to start a pool on when it will hit 100?
    4. Huw Leslie's Open Social Networking presentation on Slideshare is definitely worth checking out; he discusses a possible technical extension to OpenID to support better sharing of relationship information among social networks. (Naysayers on the Google Group Social Network Portability are currently discussing how unrealistic the ideas are.)
    5. I admire the ideas in A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web but I get stopped in my tracks trying to define the term "social web" in a way that makes sense in relation to the "real world" outside the web (you know, what some people refer to as "meatspace.")

I know Apple is getting hammered for the precipitous price drop on the iPhone but I think the advancing wireless capabilities of the iPod and the ability to purchase files directly via a wireless connection with the iPod (even if it's only a Starbucks connection) bodes well for an opening up of the web to different types of devices and different types of transactions. (I'd be a lot happier if the iPhone weren't hobbled by its being stuck with an AT&T network monopoly but that's another story.)

It's good to see a lot of discussion about network portability of "relationship" data. I especially like the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web and its emphasis on ownership. As I have unfortunately found, however, defining "ownership" in such a situation is going to be very tricky. (For some of the legal and policy implications of the "ownership" issue check out my articles that I have tagged Personal Data Ownership.)

One major issue is that there are fundamentally different views about privacy, ownership, and how the boundaries between the "web" and "the real world" are defined that will need to be bridged in order for personally controlled portability to work.

As I wrote in Should We Be Able to Buy and Sell our Personal Financial and Medical Data? people should be able to auction off access to their personal and intimated data to the highest bidder, or they should be able to give it away (that's for the "I have nothing to hide" crowd), or they should be able to wrap a technological and legal barrier around themselves to create an invulnerable "bubble" that keeps themselves and their data safe and secure from prying eyes.

I'm not holding my breath but the fact that such issues are being so extensively discussed is probably a good sign.

What I'm really curious about, though, is whether Apple will eventually make some earth-shaking announcements related to social networking? That may be a pipe dream because of the DRM line that Apple needs to walk (99-cent ring tones, anyone?) but if there were one company that would be well-positioned to impose a data portability standard across a well-controlled hardware-and-software infrastructure, it would be Apple.

Copyright (c) 2007 by Dennis D. McDonald




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