February 2012

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2012.

I own a lot of books and music CDs — enough to fill many shelves. Here’s just one:

They are relatively uncomplicated possessions. There are no limits (other than mine) on who can read my books, or what else  I can do with them, shy of abusing fairly obvious copyright laws. (For example, I can’t plagiarize somebody’s writing, or reproduce whole chapters of a book I’m quoting.) Music is a bit more complicated, but not to the degree that I stop assuming that I own and control the CDs on my shelves (even when they’re copied onto a hard drive, or stored in a cloud). The same even goes for the videocassettes and DVD of movies I’ve purchased. They are mine. I own them.

But books, music and movies from Amazon, Apple and other BigCos aren’t really sold. They are licensed. Take Amazon’s terms of use for e-books. They say this:

… the Content Provider grants you a non-exclusive right to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Kindle or a Reading Application or as otherwise permitted as part of the Service, solely on the number of Kindles or Other Devices specified in the Kindle Store, and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.

Pretty clear. That stuff ain’t yours. All you get is some downloaded data and a highly restricted set of permissions for where and how you use that data, mostly within within the walled gardens provided by Amazon and the Content Providers. So it’s really more like renting than buying. (And not from friendly competitors, either.)

What’s more, the seller can also change the licensing terms at will. For example, in Apple’s terms for iTunes, it says “Apple reserves the right to modify the Usage Rules at any time.” Somewhere deep in the 55-page terms of use for the iPhone it says the same kind of thing. This is why your ownership of a smartphone is far more diminished than your ownership of a laptop or a camera. That’s because our phones are members of proprietary systems that we don’t operate. This is why the major operators (e.g. Verizon, AT&T) and OEMs (e.g. Apple and Google) are at liberty to reach into your phone and turn stuff on and off. (MVNOs such as Ting distinguish themselves by not doing that.)

Same with TV. Nothing you watch on your cable or satellite systems is yours. In most cases the gear isn’t yours either. It’s a subscription service you rent and pay for monthly. Companies in the cable and telephone business would very much like the Internet to work the same way. Everything becomes billable, regularly, continuously. All digital pipes turn into metered spigots for “content” and services on the telephony model, where you pay for easily billable data forms such as minutes and texts. (If AT&T or Verizon ran email you’d pay by the message, or agree to a “deal” for X number of emails per month.)

Free public wi-fi is getting crowded out by cellular companies looking to move some of the data carrying load over to their own billable wi-fi systems. Some operators are looking to bill the sources of content for bandwidth while others experiment with usage-based pricing, helping turn the Net into a multi-tier commercial system. (Never mind that “data hogs” mostly aren’t.) And mobile carriers are starting to slice up the Web itself. In All Mobile Traffic Isn’t Equal — As ‘Net Neutrality’ Debate Swirls, Wireless Carriers Start Cutting Special Deals , Anton Troianovski writes this in the Wall Street Journal:

One of Europe’s biggest wireless companies recently started offering a new plan in France: For less than $14 a month, customers could get unlimited Web browsing on their phones.

The catch—the Internet was limited to Twitter and Facebook. Every 20 minutes spent on any other website cost nearly 70 cents.

France Telecom SA’s Orange Group is one of several wireless carriers around the world experimenting with slicing up the Web into limited offerings and exclusive deals they hope will bring marketing advantages or higher profits.

In Turkey, mobile operator Turkcell lets users pay a flat fee to access Facebook, but not competing Turkish social networks. Polish carrier Play has offered free access to a handful of sites including Facebook but charged for the rest of the Web. And AT&T Inc. now says it’s planning to let app developers subsidize U.S. subscribers’ use of services.

Such tests remain the exception not the rule. Still, they show that the “open Web” ideal that has long governed Internet use is starting to break down as more and more surfing takes place on mobile devices.

Telecom executives, tired of being the “dumb pipes” through which valuable Internet traffic flows, say they need to cut such deals to make investing in expensive mobile-data networks worthwhile. But entrepreneurs seeking to devise new mobile offerings worry the shifting rules of the game will favor well-heeled companies that can afford carriers’ new terms.

Thus turning the mobile Web into something more like TV.

Meanwhile, back on the book and music front, publishers already have the Amazon and Apple content sphincters in place, on the iPads, iPhones and Kindles that are gradually marginalizing our dull old all-purpose desktop and laptop computers.What used to be radio is gradually turning into a rights-clearing mess. You like Spotify? Read Michael Robertson on how hard it is for Spotify and other radio-like music services to make money, or for the artists to make much either. You like to hear music on the radio, either over the air or over streams? Read David Oxenford’s report on how complicated that’s getting. Stopping SOPA was indeed an achievement by advocates of a free and open Internet.  But that was like stopping one goal in a football game after the other side already built up a 100-to-0 lead.

So, while BigCo walled gardeners such as Apple and Amazon continue to convert things that could be owned in the physical world (starting with music and books) into what can only be licensed in the virtual one, the regulatory framework around the Internet is ratcheting in an ever more restrictive direction, partly at the behest of regulatory captors such as the phone, cable and content companies (all getting more and more vertically integrated), and partly at the behest of countries that want the UN and the ITU to help them restrict Net usage inside their borders.  The latter is less about licensing than about pure politics, but it’s still at variance with the free and open marketplace the Net opened up in the first place.

John Battelle has long been observing this trend, and contextualizes it in a post titled It’s not whether Google’s threatened. It’s asking ourselves: What commons do we wish for?, The gist:

What kind of a world do we want to live in? As we increasingly leverage our lives through the world of digital platforms, what are the values we wish to hold in common? I wrote about this issue a month or so ago:  On This Whole “Web Is Dead” Meme. In that piece I outlined a number of core values that I believe are held in common when it comes to what I call the “open” or “independent” web. They also bear repeating (I go into more detail in the post, should you care to read it):

No gatekeepers. The web is decentralized. Anyone can start a web site. No one has the authority (in a democracy, anyway) to stop you from putting up a shingle.

An ethos of the commons. The web developed over time under an ethos of community development, and most of its core software and protocols are royalty free or open source (or both). There wasn’t early lockdown on what was and wasn’t allowed. This created chaos, shady operators, and plenty of dirt and dark alleys. But it also allowed extraordinary value to blossom in that roiling ecosystem.

- No preset rules about how data is used. If one site collects information from or about a user of its site, that site has the right to do other things with that data, assuming, again, that it’s doing things that benefit all parties concerned.

- Neutrality. No one site on the web is any more or less accessible than any other site. If it’s on the web, you can find it and visit it.

- Interoperability. Sites on the web share common protocols and principles, and determine independently how to work with each other. There is no centralized authority which decides who can work with who, in what way.

I find it hard to argue with any of the points above as core values of how the Internet should work. And it is these values that created Google and allowed the company to become the world beater is has been these past ten or so years. But if you look at this list of values, and ask if Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and the thousands of app makers align with them, I am afraid the answer is mostly no. And that’s the bigger issue I’m pointing to: We’re slowly but surely creating an Internet that is abandoning its original values for…well, for something else that as yet is not well defined.

This is why I wrote Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web. I’m not out to “save Google,” I’m focused on trying to understand what the Internet would look like if we don’t pay attention to our core shared values.

What’s hard for walled gardeners to grok — and for the rest of us as well  — is that  the free and open worlds created by generative systems such as PCs and the Internet have boundaries sufficiently wide to allow creation of what Umair Haque calls “thick value” in abundance. To Apple, Amazon, AT&T and Verizon, building private worlds for captive customers might look like thick value, but in the long run captive customer husbandry closes more opportunities across the marketplace than they open. Companies do compete (as do governments), but the market and civilization are both games that support positive sum outcomes for multiple players. The free and open Internet is the game board on which the Boston Consulting Group says a $2.1 trillion economy grew in 2010, on a trajectory to reach $4.2 trillion by 2016. That game board is also a commons, and it’s being enclosed. (Lewis Hyde, author of Common as Air, calls it the “third enclosure.”)

By losing the free and open Internet, and free and open devices to interact with it — and even such ordinary things as physical books and music media — we reduce the full scope of both markets and civilization.

But that’s hard to see when the walled gardens are so rich with short-term benefits.

[Later...] I should make clear that I’m not against silos as a business breed, or vertical integration as a business strategy. In fact, I think we owe a great deal of progress to both. I think Apple actually opened up the smartphone market with the iPhone, and its vertical private marketplace. The concern I’m expressing in this post is with the fractioning of the commercial Web, as we experience it, and of much else that happens on the Net, into private vertical silos, using proprietary gear that limits what can be done to what the company owning the whole market allows. The book business, for example, largely happens inside Amazon, as of today. I think this is good in some ways, and worse in others. I’m visiting the worse here.

 

(Cross-posted from the ProjectVRM blog.)

left r-buttonright r-buttonFor as long as we’ve had economies, demand and supply have been attracted to each other like a pair of magnets. Ideally, they should match up evenly and produce good outcomes. But sometimes one side comes to dominate the other, with bad effects along with good ones.

Such has been the case on the Web ever since it went commercial with the invention of the cookie in 1995, resulting in a  in which the demand side — that’s you and me — plays the submissive role of mere “users,” who pretty much have to put up with whatever rules websites set on the supply side.

Consistent with  (“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”) the near absolute power of website cows over user calves has resulted in near-absolute corruption of website ethics in respect to personal privacy.

This has been a subject of productive obsession by  and her team of reporters at The Wall Street Journal, which have been producing the  series (shortcut: http://wsj.com/wtk) since July 30, 2010, when Julia by-lined . The next day I called that piece a turning point. And I still believe that.

Today came another one, again in the Journal, in Julia’s latest, titled Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button. She begins,

A coalition of Internet giants including Google Inc. has agreed to support a do-not-track button to be embedded in most Web browsers—a move that the industry had been resisting for more than a year.

The reversal is being announced as part of the White House’s call for Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights,” that will give people greater control over the personal data collected about them.

The long White House press release headline reads,

We Can’t Wait: Obama Administration Unveils Blueprint for a “Privacy Bill of Rights” to Protect Consumers Online

Internet Advertising Networks Announces Commitment to “Do-Not-Track” Technology to Allow Consumers to Control Online Tracking

Obviously, government and industry have been working together on this one. Which is good, as far as it goes. Toward that point, Julia adds,

The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.

The do-not-track button also wouldn’t block companies such as Facebook Inc. from tracking their members through “Like” buttons and other functions.

“It’s a good start,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But we want you to be able to not be tracked at all if you so choose.”

In the New York Times’ White House, Consumers in Mind, Offers Online Privacy Guidelines Edward Wyatt writes,

The framework for a new privacy code moves electronic commerce closer to a one-click, one-touch process by which users can tell Internet companies whether they want their online activity tracked.

Much remains to be done before consumers can click on a button in their Web browser to set their privacy standards. Congress will probably have to write legislation governing the collection and use of personal data, officials said, something that is unlikely to occur this year. And the companies that make browsers — Google, Microsoft, Apple and others — will have to agree to the new standards.

No they won’t. Buttons can be plug-ins to existing browsers. And work has already been done. VRM developers are on the case, and their ranks are growing. We have dozens of developers (at that last link) working on equipping both the demand and the supply side with tools for engaging as independent and respectful parties. In fact we already have a button that can say “Don’t track me,” plus much more — for both sides. Its calle the R-button, and it looks like this: ⊂ ⊃. (And yes, those symbols are real characters. Took a long time to find them, but they do exist.)

Yours — the user’s — is on the left. The website’s is on the right. On a browser it might look like this:

r-button in a browser

Underneath both those buttons can go many things, including preferences, policies, terms, offers, or anything else — on both sides. One of those terms can be “do not track me.” It might point to a fourth party (see explanations here and here) which, on behalf of the user or customer, maintains settings that control sharing of personal data, including the conditions that must be met. A number of development projects and companies are already on this case. Some have personal data stores (PDSes), also called “lockers” or “vaults.” These include:

Three of those are in the U.S., one in Austria, one in France, one in South Africa, and three in the U.K. (All helping drive the Midata project by the U.K. government, by the way.) And those are just companies with PDSes. There are many others working on allied technologies, standards, protocols and much more. They’re all just flying below media radar because media like to look at what big suppliers and governments are doing. Speaking of which… :-)

Here’s Julia again:

Google is expected to enable do-not-track in its Chrome Web browser by the end of this year.

Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of advertising at Google, said the company is pleased to join “a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘Do Not Track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls.”

White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Daniel Weitzner said the do-not-track option should clear up confusion among consumers who “think they are expressing a preference and it ends up, for a set of technical reasons, that they are not.”

Some critics said the industry’s move could throw a wrench in a separate year-long effort by the World Wide Web consortium to set an international standard for do-not-track. But Mr. Ingis said he hopes the consortium could “build off of” the industry’s approach.

So here’s an invitation to the White House, Google, the 3wC, interested BigCos (including CRM companies), developers of all sizes and journalists who are interested in building out genuine and cooperative relationships between demand and supply::::

Join us at IIW — the Internet Identity Workshop — in Mountain View, May 1-3. This is the unconference where developers and other helpful parties gather to talk things over and move development forward. No speakers, no panels, no BS. Just good conversation and productive work. It’s our fourteenth one, and they’ve all been highly productive.

As for the r-button, take it and run with it. It’s there for the development. It’s meaningful. We’re past square one. We’d love to have all the participation we can get, from the big guys as well as the little ones listed above and here.

To help get your thinking started, visit this presentation of one r-button scenario, by Adam Marcus of MIT. Here’s another view of the same work, which came of of a Google Summer of Code project through ProjectVRM and the Berkman Center:

(Props to Oshani Seneviratne and David Karger, also both of MIT, and Ahmad Bakhiet, of Kings College London, for work on that project.)

If we leave fixing the calf-cow problem entirely up to the BigCos and BigGov, it won’t get fixed. We have to work from the demand side as well. In economies, customers are the 100%.

Here are some other stories, mostly gathered by Zemanta:

All look at the symptoms, and supply-side cures. Time for the demand side to demand answers from itself. Fortunately, we’ve been listening, and the answers are coming.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Now comes news (via Peter Kafka in All Things D and Jason Boog in Galleycat) that robot-written “stories” are turning up on the pages of Forbes and other publications. The robots are made by Narrative Science, which (says its About page) “started life as a joint research project at Northwestern University Schools of Engineering and Journalism.”

That Narrative Science reportedly has thirty customers already says more about the state of journals than it does about journalism. Tyler Durden in ZeroHedge may have the best, if not the last word:

Condolences to all financial journalists. If you thought your meager salary was crap, you are about to be replaced by a costless algorithm. The market you wrote about no longer needs you. But at least we will now have computers telling us all about how (seasonally adjusted) trends in financial journalism employment are improving.

Probably what is even sadder is that nobody noticed as more and more robots have taken over for humans.

… if a robot is reacting to a headline written by itself (and it is only a matter of time before Narrative Science is acquired by GETCO or some other HFT behemoth in the latest market manipulation scheme) the epic collapse possibilities are simply stupefying.

HT to @swardley.

Why Jeremy Lin suddenly such hot stuff?

Last night I listened to sports radio from ESPN, WFAN in New York, KNBR in San Francisco, and WEEI in Boston, as well as to KOVO here in Provo, Utah (where I’m hanging this week). One of the talkers put it best, saying something like this: “Let’s face it. There is no other story right now. Jeremy Lin is all we can talk about, because he’s too damned interesting.”

Tonight the saga continued. Jeremy Lin scored 27 points with 12 assists (and 8 turnovers) as the Knicks beat the Raptors in Toronto on a 3-point shot by — of course — Jeremy Lin. Also this: he made the winning shot with half a second on the clock. And that was after tying the game up a few seconds earlier with a drive to the basket in heavy traffic, drawing a foul, and making that shot too. That’s two three-point plays in a row. Great stuff. Legendary, considering that he’s done this kind of thing night after night, though a career that’s just six games long, so far.

So let’s pause to look at what makes a story — especially one so irresistible as this one:

  1. A character. That is, a protagonist. Somebody you can identify with, because they’re interesting and unique. Ideally, they aren’t from Central Casting. And they have flaws as well as positive qualities.
  2. A problem. That is, a challenge or a struggle that keeps you interested. (Turning the page, coming back for the next episode, whatever.)
  3. Movement toward a resolution. That is, the clear sense that this is all going somewhere, no matter how bad things might be now, or how complicated the plot lines thicken and braid.

Jeremy Lin scores big on all three. Like all of us, he’s not typical. In his case, especially for basketball. He’s 6’3, but that’s about average for a point guard. He’s also skinny, not bulging with muscles, not covered in tatoos. He’s also Chinese, in the ethnic sense, though he’s an American kid who grew up in Palo Alto. You don’t find many Chinese (or even Asian) players in the NBA, or even at the college level. He’s also a devout Christian who is quick to thank God, though not so quick as Tim Tebow.

He also has a problem: until just a few games ago, he couldn’t get much respect.

While he was named Player of the Year by many for leading Paly High to the state championship as a Senior, and was first team all-state in California that same year, he wasn’t recruited by any major schools, or even many minor ones. He ended up going to Harvard, which doesn’t give athletic scholarships and where he played four solid years of ball before graduating with a degree in economics and a 3.1 GPA. He was first team all-Ivy, and got kudos from many coaches, including Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun (on whose team he dropped 30 points and grabbed 9 boards), but went undrafted by the NBA. After excelling in an NBA summer league, he found his way to the end of the bench for the Golden State Warriors, his home team growing up. They cut him. Then he surfaced at the Houston Rockets. They cut him too. Then the New York Knicks picked him up off waivers from Houston. They were ready to cut him too, but needed help from deep in the bench after their two starting stars couldn’t play.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the rest is history. Lin played only 55 minutes in the Knicks’ prior 23 games, most of which the team lost. Then he came off the bench in a game on February 4 — remember, this is just ten days ago — and scored 25 points with 5 boards and 7 assists. The Knicks won. The Knicks have gone undefeated since then, with Lin as their point guard. He’s scored more than 20 points in all of those games, and hit the winning shot in two of them. He also out-scored Kobe Bryant, with 38 points, in a game against the Lakers.

So it’s a triumphant story, but it’s not over. What keeps us tuned in and turning the pages is that we don’t know what will happen next. Is he really that good? Can he keep it up? If the answers to either of those questions is yes, how many other Jeremy Lins are out there, unrecognized?

We don’t know, and that keeps us interested too.

In my case, I’m interested in Jeremy Lin as a character because both my older kids went to Paly High when we lived in Palo Alto. My son and I probably played basketball on some of the same courts Jeremy played on later. I also watched Jeremy play when he was at Harvard. I remember one game where it was clear that Jeremy was the best player on the floor. But the next night we went to a Celtics game and couldn’t help comparing the two games. The difference was extreme. I couldn’t imagine any of the players I saw at the Harvard game playing in the NBA, Jeremy Lin included.

But here he is. I’ve watched some of his games, and it’s clear that he’s a solid point guard without a lot of flash, reminding me of Steve Nash, Derek Fisher and John Stockton in their primes. Good penetrator. Good shooter. Great at sharing the ball and running the floor. But I think there’s more going on than talent and style. Basketball, like all sports, is a head game. Skill isn’t enough. You’ve got to have your head straight. Wilt Chamberlain, one of the greatest players of all time, and the only one ever to score 100 points in a game (when there were no 3-point shots, not that he would have taken any), was a notoriously bad foul shooter. Yet in practice, I’ve read, Wilt was terrific at foul-shooting. He just choked in games.

What I’m saying is that Jeremy Lin is a head-case in the positive sense: he’s broken through into a zone where his head is level and his emotions are positive. He believes in himself, and he believes in his team. He has the poise of a player who has been a starter for ten years. The other players he makes look good include Bill Walker, Landry Fields, Jared Jeffries and Steve Novak, none of whom are big stars.

Can’t help loving it. The story is too good not to.

[Later...] Well, the Knicks played two more games since I wrote the above, winning one and losing the other. Jeremy Lin scored 10 points with 13 assists in the first, and 25 points with 5 assists and 4 steals in the second. Alas, he also had nine turnovers in that one. Protecting the ball is a weakness of his — and now he’s not overlooked by opposing defenses. Still, you can’t win them all. He’s clearly a solid NBA player on a team that was tanking without him and now has strong shot at making the playoffs.

So I want to add two more points to the ones I made above.

One is that Lin’s ethnicity, while it adds spice to his story, has nothing to do with his qualities as a basketball player. On this issue lots of commentators are quite wrong. Says Walt Frazier in this USA Today story, “This league is dominated by African Americans. What are the odds of an Asian guy coming on and having this impact? It’s amazing. It’s inexplicable.” No, it’s not. The chance is very small that the next NBA player coming through a door will be Asian, but the NBA has hundreds of players spread across 30 teams. It should be no surprise that an Asian guy would show up every once in awhile, especially if he’s an American who grew up playing excellent high school and college ball, as Jeremy Lin did. And his impact has everything to do with his skills as a player and nothing to do with his name or his looks. The only influence those had (I say, in the past tense) was on talent scouting. A big reason he escaped notice was that he didn’t look like a typical basketball player. This is now a mistake that scouts are less likely to make. (By the way, Lin’s agent is black, and Lin has a great sense of humor about his unique non-basketball qualities. I mean, you’ve gotta see this video.)

The other is that Lin has clearly worked on his game. By that I mean he is not the player we saw at Paly High, at Harvard, or even in games for the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets. He has improved. Practicing with NBA players has made him a better player. Also, at the Knicks, he has been learning a new offense under Coach Mike D’Antoni. Remember how well D’Antoni did in Phoenix with Steve Nash at guard? That’s why the Knicks recruited D’Antoni. Turns out Lin is a lot like Nash: a smart non-egotistical high-energy player who runs the floor at high speed, can navigate through traffic, looks to pass before he shoots, and plays tough defense that forces a lot of turnovers. That’s why other players like to have him on the floor. The coach too.

Some links from Zemanta:

Should you manage your personal data just so you can sell it to marketers? (And just because somebody’s already buying it anyway, why not?) Those are the barely-challenged assumptions in Start-Ups Seek to Help Users Put a Price on Their Personal Data, by Joshua Brustein in The New York Times. He writes,

People have been willing to give away their data while the companies make money. But there is some momentum for the idea that personal data could function as a kind of online currency, to be cashed in directly or exchanged for other items of value. A number of start-ups allow people to take control — and perhaps profit from — the digital trails that they leave on the Internet…

Many of the new ideas center on a concept known as the personal data locker. People keep a single account with information about themselves. Businesses would pay for this data because it allows them to offer personalized products and advertising. And because people retain control over the data in their lockers, they can demand something of value in return. Maybe a discounted vacation, or a cash payment.

Proponents of personal data lockers do not see them simply as a solution to privacy concerns. Rather, they hope that people will share even more data if there is a market for them to benefit from it.

At most that’s only partially true. I know for a fact that brokering personal data is far from the only business model for Personal (the main company sourced in the piece.) I also know it’s also not what Connect.me, Singly, MyDex, Azigo, Qiy, Glome, Kynetx, the Locker Project, or any of the other VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) companies and development projects listed here (Personal among them) exist to do. Check their websites. None of them align with this story. Mostly they exist to give individuals more control over their lives and their relationships with organizations, with each other, and with themselves.

But the personal-data-for-advertising deal is a Big Meme these days, especially given the Facebook IPO.

Recently I was approached by a writer for CNN who was working on a piece about personal data stores (aka lockers, vaults, etc.). His first question was this: Are people’s perceived value of their personal data in line with what marketers are willing to pay for it?

Here’s how I answered:

Well, exactly what are marketers willing to pay to individuals directly for personal data? Without that information, we can’t say what people’s perceived value for their personal data might be. In fact, there never has been a market where people sell their personal data.

What we do know for sure is that personal data has use value. That it might also have sale value — to the persons themselves — is a new idea, and still unproven. We’re only talking about it because marketers are paying other parties for personal data.

Let’s look at use value first. Think about all the personal data in your life that can be digitized and stored: photos, videos, letters, texts, emails, contact information for yourself and others, school and business records, bills received and paid, medical and fitness data, calendar entries… Today all of us use this data. But we don’t sell it. Yes, others do sell it and use it, but we’re not involved in that.

Now let’s look at sale value for the same data. That only looks like a good idea if the entire frame of reference is what marketers want, not what individual people want.

There may indeed be a market for selling personal data — for better offers, or whatever. But does that speculative sale value exceed the actual use value for the same data? Hard to say, because the metrics are different. Most use value is not transacted, and can’t be accounted for. But it is real. And that real value might be put at risk when the data is sold, especially if the terms of the sale don’t limit what the buyer can do with the data.

As for the actual amounts paid for personal data by marketers — on a person-by-person basis — I think you’ll find it’s pretty small. True, the sum paid to Google and Facebook by advertisers is large, but that’s not necessarily for the kind of personal data people might be willing to sell (such as, “I’m in the market for a Ford truck right now”), and the waste is enormous. Most click-through rates are way below one percent. Also, the belief that people actually want messages all the time — even highly personalized ones — is a mistake. They don’t. Advertising on the whole is tolerated far more than it is desired.

Sure, many are saying, “Hey, third party spyware in our browsers is snarfing up all kinds of personal data and selling it, so why not pay individuals directly for that data?” There are several additional problems with this assumption.

One is that people are okay with all this spying. When it’s made clear to them, they are not. But, on the whole, it is not made clear, so they operate in blind acquiescence to it.

Another is that the money involved would be large enough to make the deal worthwhile. As I understand it, personal data sold on the back-end trading floors of the Live Web goes for itty bitty amounts on a per-person-per-ad basis. But I haven’t seen anybody run solid numbers on this. Whatever those numbers turn out to be, the case is not proven so far.

All the VRM developers listed below are in the business of helping individuals understand and empower themselves, as independent and autonomous actors in the marketplace. Not just as better “targets” for marketing messages.

The movement of which they are a part — VRM, for Vendor Relationship Management — is toward giving individuals tools for both independence and engagement. Those tools include far more than data management (of which personal data stores are a part).

For example, we are working on terms of service that individual customers can assert: ones that say, for example, “don’t track me outside your website,” and “share back with me all the data you collect about me, in the form I specify.” That has nothing to do with what anything sells for. It’s about relationship, not transaction.

I could go on, but I’d rather point back to other stuff I’ve written about this already, such as this, from Data Bubble II:

Right now it’s hard to argue against all the money being spent (and therefore made) in the personalized advertising business—just like it was hard to argue against the bubble in tech stock prices in 1999 and in home prices in 2004. But we need to come to our senses here, and develop new and better systems by which demand and supply can meet and deal with each other as equally powerful parties in the open marketplace. Some of the tech we need for that is coming into being right now. That’s what we should be following. Not just whether Google, Facebook or Twitter will do the best job of putting crosshairs on our backs.

John [Battelle is] right that the split is between dependence and independence. But the split that matters most is between yesterday’s dependence and tomorrow’s independence—for ourselves. If we want a truly conversational economy, we’re going to need individuals who are independent and self-empowered. Once we have that, the level of economic activity that follows will be a lot higher, and a lot more productive, than we’re getting now just by improving the world’s biggest guesswork business.

And this, from A Sense of Bewronging:

My Web is not their Web. I’m tired of being shown. I’m tired of “experiences” that are “delivered” to me. I’m tired of bad guesswork — or any guesswork. I don’t want “scarily accurate” guesses about me and what I might want.

What I crave is independence, and better ways of engaging — ones that are mine and not just theirs. Ones that work across multiple services in consistent ways. Ones that let me change my data with all these services at once, if I want to.

I want liberation from the commercial Web’s two-decade old design flaws. I don’t care how much a company uses first person possessive pronouns on my behalf. They are not me, they do now know me, and I do not want them pretending to be me, or shoving their tentacles into my pockets, or what their robots think is my brain. Enough, already.

While they might not put it the same way, I believe the VRM companies Burstein sources believe the same thing.

Meanwhile, more links to the current zeitgiest, mostly from Zemanta: