I’m generally someone who lives a very public existence and suggests that most people get used to that notion. Google, however, is about to test our limits here. They’re apparently about to introduce a mobile application comparable to their existing Goggles but instead of identifying places, it identifies people. [UPDATE: Google denies working on such an app or at least terms it speculative. In any instance, my observations below stand.] Even to me, this one is creepy. They’re already defending it by saying the default is “opt out” and that users must explicitly choose to share their pictures and information. I have so many problems with this approach that I can’t begin to address them all. But here are just a few:
- “Informed consent” is only reasonable where the individual involves is making an “informed” decision. Are people really going to read the fine print before they opt in? Of course not. And even if they did, is Google going to manage things in a “do you really want to do this” fashion or are they going to say “great, you agreed, let’s move on and forget about what you’ve really just done here.” They’ll do nothing to discourage participation.
- These things are a moving target. Remember when you signed up for Facebook? If it was more than a year ago, your privacy options were fairly limited then. Only under extreme scrutiny and now the threat of governmental intervention has Facebook made its changes and defaults more open and user-friendly.
- We’re doing things we never thought about when we signed up for a platform. Facebook at first was about connecting with “friends” and sharing status messages. We’re now sharing pictures and, even more intimate, location. I’ve only friended people on Foursquare (a location-based service) who I care to have know where I happen to be. I’ve got over a thousand friends on Facebook, some of whom I don’t care to have know where I’ve checked in and where I happen to be. I’ve set up a group on Facebook called “location OK” and have only included those friends whom I’m comfortable having know where I’m located, and I’ve set my privacy settings on Facebook so that Places check-ins can only be seen by members of that group? Have you done that? Do you know anyone else who has done that? Probably not. You set up your settings for a use case that may no longer be the case, and haven’t adapted. This “creeping incrementalism” has made it easy for you to ignore this stuff. Managing Facebook and Google is no longer simple.
- Deep integration. You have no idea how much information you’re sharing across networks. Every time you click “allow” to sign in with Facebook or Twitter, you’ve set up a data-sharing arrangement that goes well beyond what you ever intended. Go look at your Twitter and Facebook settings and see how many people you’ve enabled to have access to your data and credentials. I’ll bet you don’t even know what half of the things you’ve got in there are. When I sign in like this, I change their default setting so that the approval is good for one day only. Of course the default is “until revoked” which is polite language for saying “forever, because you’ll forget about this 10 seconds after you clicked it.”
As I said, I could go on and on. So what’s going to happen here. The scariest thing is that this mess has created a situation where the government’s going to step in to help save us. Yikes! Grandstanding politicians. Just what we need here. What we really need is for someone to create a really great privacy management tool that helps us manage all the complex relationships we’ve established and manage all the information we’re sharing in an easy-to-use, coordinated, centralized fashion. Apple and Facebook and Google and Amazon are going to fight you at every step. That leaves you, Microsoft. Symantec? Cisco (who needs to boost its consumer initiatives anyhow)?
Someone tell me a legitimate use case for this software, beyond stalking. “I should know their name but I forgot”? “They look familiar but I’m too embarrassed to ask”? If this were anyone but Google (or other big players), I might ignore this app. But Google?! Do no evil?? This will be used for evil.