Internet – Implicitly

One of the people I read and observe keenly is Eric Savitz, West Coast Editor of Wall Street Journals Digital Network Barron’s and Tech Trader Daily blogger. Savitz view of the industry and its main players is superb – with him, I often feel that I have a unique, accurate, vision of the future. Sometime ago, Savitz got into serious hot water with PapaiPod himself, Steve Jobs, for daring to suggest, way back in February,  that Apple is struggling to stay above water.

The backlash wasn’t civilised, or even cordial. Savitz reflected that “[t]he comments on my most recent Apple posts have taken on an alarming, ugly tone. Anti-semitic remarks. Rampant personal attacks against both myself and the analysts who cover the company. Some bozo decided it would be a good idea to post my home address. I have nothing against Apple, but I will continue to report on any information I think may be influencing the stock, whether positive or negative.”

A few days ago, Savitz reported from the 10th Churchill Club’s annual Top 10 Tech Trends Dinner. You can read his full report here. One trend that caught my attention comes from a First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman and is described as “The rise of the “implicit” Internet.”

This is how Savitz sums up, in his notes, Kopelman’s conference submission:

“Today your permanent record exists; you create a trail of data exhaust, digital bread crumbs. Implicit data that exists in silence. Movie rentals, restaurant reservations, books purchased, Web sites visited, etc. All of this data existed in silence. No easy way until now to benefit from the data; but the silos are coming down. Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Mozilla collecting data. Trend is that big wave will come to companies that are able to (offer) novel and new ways to deliver information by crossing these silos, with implicit data on the Internet. Use social networking data to improve search. Conversion of data exhaust will create value in new and interesting ways.”

Let’s unpack this tantalisingly short prophecy (for the full transcript, go here and have USD10 ready):

  1. As we act, interact and transact online, we amass records that are related to our activities. Many of these records are implicit, they exist ‘in silence’ — we are hardly aware (and often disinterested) in them.
  2. At the moment, our silent records are collected in ‘silos’, or vertical repositories, meaning that there is not connection between them: and Google, eBay and your gym, your library, dentist, local supermarket and the airline you use do not cross-reference information. Instead, they keep – and analyse it – inside their own, local, knowledge bases.
  3. Just imagine, however, that there was a way to cross-refer silent records, so that information about us would be cross-referred and analysed holistically, within the context of our demographics, social network/s, purchase history and behaviour, lifestyle and life-choices – – –

The potential use – and abuse – of silent information Obvious, raises serious questions about the right to privacy and about the ownership of one’s private information. Vinod Khosla, another panellist, argued that “Privacy is a red herring […] [t]here are rules and laws and ways to address the privacy issue.”

In an online article (“Privacy & Personal Data: Who Owns Your Information?“), Austin Cline quotes Douglas Neal and Nicholas Morgan, who wrote in the Autumn 2000 issue of The Wilson Quarterly: ” Rather than trying to set abstract standards for privacy in the marketplace, we can begin to think about personal information as personal property. A large part of the threat to privacy today arises from the fact that in an increasingly networked world, data about individuals–everything from their age and sex to their buying habits–have increasing monetary value.

Corporations, as well as charities, advocacy groups, and other organizations, want such information because they think they can use it to make money. So why not make them pay for it? More important, why not use the system to allow every individual to draw his or her own privacy line?”

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