Thoughts on Privacy

The release of LinkedIn intro has provoked a lively debate on twitter about security and privacy. Privacy is a hot topic at the moment, but it seems like the tech scene has been particularly contrite about Intro.

As a technologist, what LinkedIn have put together from a user experience perspective is pretty amazing and elegant; both the functionality itself, and the way they deploy it without needing to manually set things up, instead using a combination of OAuth and an iOS provisioning profile. I could imagine an extremely complicated setup process for this, but they’ve really thought about how to deliver Rapportive to the masses on iOS.

I envisage other services taking this email proxy approach too, to augment the mail user experience. It would be great to be able to chain services together, and / or use tools like IFTTT, Zapier or yahoo pipes to introduce workflow and augment emails with functionality from different services.

Sure it’s not the perfect way to extend mail; having a plugin mechanism could be more elegant, but were that available in all likelihood some services would need to send the content of the mail to a server for analysis, surfacing the same concerns about a service having your data. A plugin mechanism would also have an extra round trip to the server for the analysis, with implications for user experience caused by delays while it happens.

I feel the alarmist reaction to the security / privacy side of things is just overblown. Google apps are widely adopted, we share our lives on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, et al. This data is being used by the businesses, for usage / behaviour profiling and for targeting and re-targeting ads.

Remember, if you’re not paying, you are the product. iIt would be great if every service offered the option to pay for it, and in return didn’t use my data. This would also be a great way to put the privacy issue to bed once and for all, and I’d be interested to see this done at least as an experiment. A cool hack project would be to calculate the value of a persons social media profile; people could then pay a similar amount to have their profile removed from the monetization schemes (an interesting aside from this is what uplift would be needed to counter any adverse network related issues).

As far as I’m concerned, I sign up for services that do cool stuff with my data. I’ll make a value judgement on whether to use a service, but if I am, and it’s free my assumption is that they’re monetising my data. I actually prefer targeted ads; if I have to see ads, it’s better if they’re for things I’m likely to be interested in buying.

Services have an obligation to not to lose my data; nobodies perfect, and as we know LinkedIn had a breach recently, but there are already (in the UK at least) data protection laws that result in criminal proceedings should a company not be taking acceptable measures. They’re certainly no more likely to lose my data from their servers than I am to lose one of my devices.

I’ve installed Intro, and continue to watch it but I’m not actively using it; whilst I liked Rapportive, the fact you have to use gmail on the web to use it is a big turn off (perhaps the intro solution could be extended to desktop). I also don’t use iOS mail, which I assume is more likely to be solved.