Expanding “Opt In” to include “Claw Back.”

My partner Thanasis wrote a thoughtful piece about the trade-offs between privacy and convenience.  Since I am a table pounding “opt-in” zealot, I felt compelled to weigh in.  Opt-in is why Pontiflex is taking share so rapidly from legacy “email list brokers”.  Opt-out is the reason Facebook got kicked in the gut when they launched Beacon, and how Mark Zuckerberg briefly became a member of  a NAMBLA group!
But I don’t believe opt-in goes nearly far enough.  As the custodian of all of my personal information, if someone learns something private about me, they need my permission to get it in the first place, and that permission is revokable.   So in addition to opt-in I think we need “claw back” capabilities for all of our personally identifiable information as follows:
  • There should be a single place where we can go to see every company that has any information about us, and what they know about us.
  • We should be able to reach into any database and delete any personal information we don’t want someone to have.  If they want to pay me to keep my information, that negotiation is one I would welcome.  Today  – there is no discussion.  What’s yours becomes legally theirs forever regardless of how they learned it.  Want your neighbors detailed credit card transaction history?  Just become a “marketing partner” of the credit card company and have fun needling them about those Victoria’s Secret purchases.

Creating a privacy control panel is a simple concept, technically feasible, and is the only way to retain civility in a world where information access is rapidly becoming frictionless.  I would happily leave some of my data in the Lands End database (waste size, shoe size, color preferences).  But my income?  None of their business.  I should be able to delete that.

That said, I have no issue with proliferation of information that is NOT PERSONALLY IDENTIFIABLE.  Optimizing marketing dollars based on anonymous profile data is great.  I am not worried that websites infer my tastes as long as they can’t pierce the veil of privacy that leads them to direct solicitations of me, sales of that data to others, and other forms of abuse.  Which is why I am so hesitant to embrace Facebook, who’s CEO actually thinks it’s a gray area as to whether or not users have the right to export their friends’ email addresses. Some people may like to broadcast their personal lives, just the way some people love nude beaches.  But I will keep wearing my bathing suit, thank you very much, and I think the silent majority agrees with me.


November 22 2010
by Addy Kapur

I like where you are going. There needs to be an OpenId type solution for personal information.

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