Privacy is an interesting meme. Like the weather, it’s something that everyone likes to talk about but few actually do anything about it. Maybe, like the weather, that’s slowly changing.
A few things have hit my radar recently:
- In today’s NYT, an article about Ask.com promoting a privacy “switch” in the war for search engine queries.
- When Facebook announced its advertising program, the headline of the most influential French newspaper Le Monde went something like “Facebook sells customer data” (I’d link to it, but the archives are behind a pay wall, and I can’t find the specific story I’m remembering).
- Lauren Weinstein talks about how http is losing value over https as ISPs start to modify the content of responses, violating the spec I’m sure.
I’ve been thinking more than usual about privacy since taking on the Mozilla job, in part because even though Mozilla is clearly very “pro-web”, it’s also “pro-privacy”. While webmail provides amazing flexibility to users, it’s not without issues. The privacy issues, in particular, are likely to be ignored by most users until it’s too late. Note that I don’t expect users to care, and I think it’s unreasonable to do so. I do expect organizations, companies, governments, and the odd activists to care. The question, then, becomes whether we can change global behaviors faster than we were able to in the environmental arena.
There are interesting analogies. The largest users of email (large ISPs) are also those with the most to gain from things like contextual advertising, and would have the largest costs if things like encrypted emails became standard.
Some government agencies are leaders in the space of consumer data protection (I hear about scandinavian countries in particular, but I suspect it’s broader than that), while others are fighting against cryptography because terrorists might use it. Like green technologies, coming up with a communications infrastructure which is vibrant, extensible, and secure, is a huge technical challenge.
I can imagine online privacy equivalents of carpooling lanes, smokestacks, big lobbies, and Kyoto. Maybe Thunderbird should be the hybrid car?