TOC Pythagoras and eprivacy Your Turn

Privacy, Identity, Responsibility. Under this motto, I have called for a revolution to give us back our individual data rights. One revolution I have achieved at least, as one year has elapsed since I started to write these fillips. A good opportunity then to look back and review what I truly want to say. To the reader committed to eprivacy, I must hope it will be music to the ear. For the benefit of the sceptic, I can only pray scales fall from their eyes. May I indulge my taste for resounding stories of past masters and ask Pythagoras to help me deliver seven harmonious lessons?

First and foremost the refusal to grant individuals a clear title to their confidential data is contrary to both democratic principles and economic efficiency. Democratic principles? A careful reading of the Bill of Rights suffices to prove the US Constitution, for one, warrants eprivacy. I rest my case by recalling government abuses, real or potential, in the name of Orwellian security. Economic efficiency? Consider consumers ultimately bear all expenses paid by companies to better target their marketing. Were fair market practices to replace adversarial relations, the cost of systematic privacy invasion and the protection measures it triggers would no longer burden marketing transactions. Consumers would be actors, not targets.

Second one's own time, being physically limited, is as precious as one's own ID. Time theft, spam a prime instance, should be considered as serious a crime as ID theft. No doubt spammers linked to underground gangs will continue to defy the law. But one should stop legal spamming by corporate interests, which harvest email addresses and coerce consumers by bundling their consent to a relation with desirable transactions. Time theft is not limited to spam. Any advertising based media is also a potential violator as it charges advertisers a premium for ever more personalized targeting . Instead of forcing all consumers to barter a set amount of advertising for a set amount of content, Internet-enabled media should let consumers to individually bargain content for attention.

Third pronaocracy, the government of the people by the lobbyists for the corporate interests, is too entrenched in western societies to let them quickly recognize individuals' data and time rights. One may compare the violation of such rights to environmental pollution. Like water and air, individual data and time are "free" resources to which industries have claimed unfettered access. In both cases, free runaway appropriation is highly inefficient and unsustainable. In both cases, the need for change is hotly denied and change itself strenuously resisted by those who benefit from the status quo. From Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" to Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", more than 40 years have passed. The defense of eprivacy demands the same persistence.

Fourth eprivacy cannot be isolated from the other issues related to the production and management of information. Whether it concerns publishing, advertising, Net neutrality, censorship, security, one should take information from a unified perspective. In particular our Age of Information fuels globalization and is in turn fed by it. From this international perspective, the malign influence of local pronaocracies on eprivacy is compounded by geographic borders and diverging national interests, another similarity with pollution control.

Fifth illegal copying is a lasting phenomenon in response to three corporate behaviors, hypocrisy, greed and outmoded marketing. Hypocrisy demands full protection for company content but denies any to individuals for their confidential data. Greed refuses that in our Information Age, the more popular a published work, the faster it becomes freely available. Rather than to accept the resulting limit to the total compensation any given work can claim from society, greed looks to expand the total period during which claims may be made. Outmoded marketing fails to exploit the potential for gain offered by accelerating information distribution, engaging live audiences and developing revenues from eprivacy-conscious advertising.

Beyond the usual bluster from corporate giants, some trends are worth noticing, such as the renewed interests in live events by singers spotted by Danuta Kean (*) and the centrality of users' expectations in deciding the future of mobile phone advertising reported by Ross Tieman (**).

Sixth information creation would be boosted by new rules to better balance the interests of original information providers and of information transformers, who put sources to new usage. Our fifth point was about protecting transformers from original providers' exaggerated expectations. Conversely transformers should not be able to extract and exploit data without due respect for the original providers, whether these authors acted in a commercial or private capacity.

Notice here the use of the conditional mood. When a company runs a search engine and publicly releases users' search histories, it is a clear violation of authors' rights to eprivacy. But the case of sites linking to free video download services, as reported by Kevin J. Delaney (***), is more ambiguous. If movie studios relented in their self-defeating stance, how should the linking site potential for advertising revenues be shared between original providers and transformers? And what about the airline fare comparison services reviewed by Damon Darlin (****)? How could one remove the incentive for specific airlines to make it difficult for third parties to harvest their promotional fare information?

Last recommendation systems are the backbone of value creation from information. Without them, users loose both time and confidence as they search for information they can trust. Whether based on popularity or on expert authority, recommendation systems must however be accountable to their users by accepting responsibility for their recommendations and providing users with a redress process. The more centralized a system, especially when based on popular consensus, the more difficult it is to balance accountability with reliability. It is vital to promote a plurality of competing systems, decentralized down to expert individuals who dispense with anonymity.

Lessons are best learnt when combined with work in the field. Let me then take my bow and head for the field, in the instance a forthcoming peer to peer roommates matching service in matchless privacy. Rather than giving lessons to others, I will now take them from real life experience. I beg my faithful readers' forgiveness as time precludes further fillips in the current format.

However short and irregular my future fillips may be, I reserve the right to continue to strike evils at work against eprivacy. It is by hearing hammers strike anvils that Pythagoras found the principle of his scale. Please add your voice and join the chorus in defense of eprivacy.

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ......... How the live event staged a comeback, by Danuta Kean (Financial Times) - April 17, 2007
  • (**) ....... Volunteers sign up for adverts, by Ross Tieman (Financial Times) - April 18, 2007
  • (***) .... Threat for Big Media: Guerrilla Video Sites, by Kevin J. Delaney (Wall Street Journal) - April 17, 2007
  • (****) .. Sifting Data To Uncover Travel Deals, by Damon Darlin (New-York Times) - April 7, 2007
April 2007
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