The Privacy App
Privacy is the shielding of personal and behavioral data from people who find value in it. While there may be other people from whom the data flow is withheld, privacy is only interesting when the data produces value for the people who receive and manipulate it. The data simply does not matter to people who aren’t interested.
There are two things of value that we can exchange online: attention and the details of our data stream. Both things have value that is highest when completely current and decays over time. Last month’s attention is of no use in today’s transaction. Similarly, the details of my personal preferences age about as well as fish. If you want to target me, you need to be current.
A privacy app would be a tool that allows certain people and companies access to certain aspects of my attention and data in exchange for some sort of value.
Today’s frenzied privacy free for all is an historical anomaly. Like any early market, buyers find more value in their purchases than sellers do. Today’s free and easy access to personal detail and attention will be remembered as the wild west of privacy. Personal data flows with virtually no compensation to its owners, much like mineral rights in the early bidding for a large mining claim.
It’s not sustainable.
Ultimately, people will come to understand the value of their time and attention and a formal market will come into existence. People will be compensated for their attention and their relevant data flow. Pricing that bears some relationship to value will emerge.
The attributes are so complex that it will take an app to manage them. Privacy is better understood as a personal commodity that can be exchanged for goods, value and services along with the other personal commodity, attention.
Here are the elements a privacy app would need to consider:
- The Past
Historical data, like resumes or observable online behavior from earlier times, has a core value. Because it’s from the past, the data is easily inventoried and managed. The important thing about historical data is that it provides the context for present and future behavior. Its relevance to decision making in real time declines with age. For example, I earned a certificate in computer programming 35 years ago. That may create a foundation for some of my current preferences but is no more than a not-very-useful data point by itself
. Resumes (and other profiles) are an example of a type of data that is occasionally made current and then decays in value)
- The Present
My current behavior and preferences are driven by a combination of long term dynamics and my current circumstances. Understanding the state of my current preference set is of significant value to people and companies who want to engage in a transaction with me right now or in the very near future. The present is probably sub dividable into unique areas of interest. It’s not necessary (or even desirable) to disclose my online dating habits to a prospective employer. An app would have to manage my various data streams with a variety of levels of security. I may, for instance, want my current health care provider to have access to all of my health care data. I may only want to disclose the stuff that is relevant to the particular condition being examined. (An orthopedic surgeon has no observable use for my psychiatric profile).
- The Future
A range of predictable events, purchases and decisions are going to happen in the future. People and companies who wish to engage me in those conversations, when it’s relevant, will vie for access to indicators of an impending decision. Changes of job, housing, marital status, transportation device, consumer appliances and changes of those things in my family will trigger windows of availability in which I will be more amenable to intrusion than others. The people and companies who want to interact with me on these issues will be able to acquire the indicators and the follow on data flow in sort of a futures market that will be brokered by the app.
- CrowdSourced Data
My personal data flow is always complemented by a context of data that emerges from the crowd/network. Relative network influence, reputation assessments and performance evaluations are some of the components. This is one of the trickiest things for the app to manage since ownership of the data is less than clear.
- Health of The App and Vendor
The app has to be self monitoring and self bonding. If your privacy depends on this app being constantly updated (like virus software), public accountability
is a necessary piece of the backbone. There will certainly be competing app providers. Crowd sourced performance measurement allows the user to make decisions about the utility of the app since no single user is likely to be aware of all of the health problems of the app. Competitors in the market make switching possible if/when the app begins to fail functionally. Related to but distinct
from the health of the app is the health of the vendor. Is the company meeting its financial obligations. Is it’s balance sheet in good condition? Is it meeting its contractual agreements?
- Purchase and Licensing
This is the commercial end of the app. It controls the sale and licensing of one’s privacy data to the highest bidder and most relevant content providers.
Today, it seems like privacy has little or no value. Certainly, the big privacy miners (social media companies and resume data aggregators) have a vested interest in seeing the value minimized. The current status quo is unlikely to hold for a variety of reasons.
When public sentiment changes (and there is some evidence that a third of Facebook’s new accounts belong to people who manage one public profile and a second more private profile), it will change quickly.
As mentioned above, the value of personal data depends on its currency and predictability. All that it takes to change the market is for a meaningful subset to withhold data for a relatively short period of time.
That’s the window in which a privacy app will emerge.
John Sumser is the founder, principal author and editor-in-chief of the HRExaminer Online Magazine. John explores the people, technology, ideas and careers of senior leaders in Human Resources and Human Capital. John is the also principal of Two Color Hat where he routinely advises Human Resources, Recruiting Departments and Talent Management teams with product analysis, market segmentation, positioning, strategy and branding guidance.