Are the Privacy Cyberwars Already Here?
In my daily perusal of my Megite news feed, I ran across these two articles:
- Ask.com Unveils Search Privacy Tool: Users Control Their Search Data
- Scheme to Destroy Your Competition with RivalMap
The first describes a search engine (Ask.com) that is advertising as a feature (“AskEraser”) the ability it gives users to “erase” tracks of their Ask.com queries. If you’ve ever reviewed a Google privacy statement and scratched your head about what Google intends to do with all your data, you’ll understand the potential significance of Ask.com’s action.
The second describes a service (RivalMap) that simplifies tracking the actions and information related to your competitors that is available online.
It’s interesting these two showed up today since they seem opposed to one another. One describes deleting information about online behavior, the other describes ways to take advantage of public information to track behavior.
If you’ve ever wondered what people reveal about their research interests on systems like del.icio.us you’ll also see that tracking competitor activity by reviewing competitor staff members’ online behavior is also an informationally-lucrative area that tracking software is probably already available for. (“Hey Joe, look at the bookmarks Frank over at United Widgets is saving!”)
Pretty soon we’ll probably see an increasing number of tools advertised that make it easier than ever for people to mask their online behavior via tools that further simplify accessing the benefits provided by anonymous surfing proxies and regular cookie and spyware deletion. I would certainly investigate approaches that would help prevent my competitors from learning sensitive information about my company. Wouldn’t you?
The wild card here is that not everyone is equally sensitive about online privacy. We saw this with the recent Facebook Beacon controversy. For example, I’m one of those who believes that many people don’t really care about online privacy — until they’re bitten by something they supposedly said or did.
But even if the “public at large” (whatever that means) doesn’t care about the tracks they leave from surfing, it is likely that, as more of our daily transactions go online, an increasing number of products and services will be provided that (a) will help people track what others (and competitors) are doing and (b) will help people cover up or hide what they and their employees are doing.
My concern: will these ensuing “privacy cyberwars” end up destroying the benefits we’ve seen from the public web?
Copyright (c) 2007 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D.