Total openness on the real time web – and the counter-revolution towards privacy

I was recently speaking at Cloud Connect on the way ubiquitous computing is enabled by the cloud, and changes our lives (“Ubicomp is Here: Pervasive Connections, Cloud Computing, and Universal Interfaces“). It was a fascinating panel of experts pulled together by Alistair Croll.

Naturally, one of the topics that came up was “what happens to privacy?”

Many opinions were – its a new generation and a new attitude to privacy; basically people care much less about privacy nowadays.

That opinion is actually common nowadays among the gurus of the real-time web. Looking at the success of Twitter, you can’t blame them.

But there was another opinion. This opinion states that our attitudes are actually less monolithic. What is really happening – we are creating a difference in our own minds between types of information and the privacy levels we expect for them. There are at least two kinds of info – one where we say “sure, I don’t care, everyone can know if I’m at the Alabama restaurant”; and the other kind where we deeply care.

I argued for this opinion. In fact I argued that the tons of blogs preaching the “privacy is dead” gospel would invite a backlash, a “counter-revolution”.

Little did I know the backlash would be so quick to come. Looking at the privacy woes of FaceBook and Google recently, I feel uncomfortably prophetic. The Talmud says “prophecy is given to fools and little children”. So I hope this prophecy comes from the child in me ūüėČ

The gurus of the real time web are arguing that everyone faces a stark choice: if you use the web, everything is open. If you do not like that, don’t put that data on the web (here is TechCrunch’s Paul Carr saying that).

But that is not a real answer. As the Cloud drives forward into all aspects of personal and business information, we are going to have plenty of data out there which needs privacy and security. We do not want to miss out on the huge benefits of the cloud.

Businesses are rapidly waking up to the huge economic and operation upside of doing things the cloud way. And consumers have long since discovered the charm of free apps, free social networks and free content.

The message sounds clear. people want control. Some things are to be totally open. We really are fine with everybody knowing we are at a restaurant. Its no big deal.

Some things are definitely not to be open, except to those we specifically authorize. This is the really valuable information that people and businesses cherish. We want the upside of the cloud without a privacy downside.

FaceBook and Google got into hot water because they gave their users privacy expectations, and then took them away. It interfered with people’s ability to make the important choice, between what is private and what is not.

Twitter does not get any complaints at all, it’s home free, because from the very start it had a zero-privacy approach. People post on Twitter only what’s comfortable for them.

The gurus of the real-time web notwithstanding, this counter-revolution is here to stay. And it makes sense.

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