Tag: VRM (page 1 of 6)

VRM+CRM at IIW

Four years and a few months ago, CRM Magazine devoted much of its May issue to VRM.not_iball1 That’s the cover there on the right. It was way ahead of its time. Same goes for ProjectVRM, which started four years earlier.

Now things are starting to shift.

I’ve heard encouraging reports from friends who went to Oracle OpenWorld last month and are headed to Salesforce‘s Dreamforce  next week. They tell me it is now becoming apparent to CRM that it needs a hand to shake on the customer side that’s not a captive one. Specifically —

  • That customers need scale across the many companies they deal with, just as companies need scale across the many customers they deal with. So, for example…
  • A customer should to be able to change his or her address (plus other form fields) for every company they deal with in one move, rather than one at a time within each company’s separate CRM system.
  • A customer should be able to intentcast as a qualified lead, safely and (at least at first) anonymously, outside of any one company’s captive marketplace.
  • An individual’s sovereign identity matters more to them — and to the marketplace — than any administrative identities conferred by companies or governments.
  • The negative externalities of unwelcome surveillance tend to outweigh whatever positive internalities the practice provides.
  • Co-creating the customer experience is better than having one side in charge of the whole thing — especially when the customer has few ways to bring consistency to her experience with many different companies.
  • Customers should have clouds of their own (aka personal clouds, stores, vaults, PIMS), and not just those of silo’d services.
  • Customers need ways to express their own policies, preferences, terms and conditions, and not be forced all the time to accept those provided by sellers — and that mutually agreeable terms will be far better than the one-sided (and in many cases unenforceable) ones nobody reads because there’s no point to it.
  • There is far more leverage on customer retention in the “own cycle” than in the “buy cycle” of the customer experience.

Speaking of which, here’s how that cycle looks, thanks to Esteban Kolsky, who drew the original: oracle-twist

There are now many dozens of developers in or near the VRM space that can be helpful for CRM as well.

Given all the action that’s going on, it would be way cool if we can get players on both sides together in one room to talk and whiteboard our way onto common ground and build new and better stuff there.

So we’re in luck, because that’s what we have with VRM Day and IIW, both at the Computer History Museum in downtown Silicon Valley (101 and Shoreline Road in Mountain View), on the last week of this month.

  • VRM Day is Monday, October 27.
  • IIW (Internet Identity Workshop) is Tuesday to Thursday, October 28-30.

The two go together. VRM Day is located and timed to lead in to IIW. The topics are ones we’ll want to be working on for the next three days — and beyond.

IIW is an unconference. There are no speakers or panels. All the topics are vetted by participants, who lead discussions and push topics forward in breakout rooms. It’s designed that way so stuff gets done and not only talked about.

While the original focus was (and remains) identity, the workshop is open to anything. High on the list of topics that get worked on, every time, are VRM ones like those listed above.

VRM Day and IIW will provide an ideal week for anybody who wants CRM to truly engage customers to get together and help make that happen.

VRM developers need to know more about how to connect with and help CRM systems and related ones, such as sCRM (social CRM), Customer Experience Management and call centers.

CRM developers need to know more about how to connect with and help VRM developers.

And, since everybody with a wallet is also a customer, that character will be well-represented too.

So I encourage everybody involved in CRM or VRM to come to VRM Day and IIW — with a special shout-out to Oracle, SAP, Microsoft Dynamics, IBM, Salesforce and SugarCRM. We need you there. And so do you. :-)

It’s time to make good on the promise we’ve seen coming for way too long.

Good news for VRM and financial transactions

FinTPTomorrow, 24 January, is code launch day for FinTP, described by its parent, Allevo, as “the first open source application for financial transactions.” The code is being released under the GPL v3 license on Github.

FinTP’s development is intended, among other things, to support VRM product and service development. This began in 2011, when Allevo folks discovered that VRM developers were collaborating with SWIFT‘s Innotribe on what would become the Digital Asset Grid (described as “a new infrastructure providing a platform for secure, authorised peer to peer data sharing between known, trusted people, businesses and devices”).

Since FinTP is open source, VRM developers — especially those dealing with financial transactions (and there are many) — should check it out and consider getting involved as well. (On my own wish list: EmanciPay.)  The FinTP community is FINkers United, and looks like this:

FinTP community

Read more at the Allevo blog.

By the way, SWIFT has an annual Startup Challenge it would be wise for VRM developers to check out — especially those dealing with banking and financial transactions.

 

 

Loose links

I’ll be flying shortly to Italy, for the State of the Net conference in Trieste later this week. (Here’s the English version, the program, the hashtag: #sotn13.) I’ll be on a couple of panels and giving a keynote on personal clouds, which are emerging as center of control for individuals doing VRM. Meanwhile, here are some links I’m accumulating around VRM topics…

Mainstream Media

Webstream Media

Tweets

BTW, while I’m glad that copying and pasting linky text from a browser window into the composing space here in WordPress mostly works, I hate the way all kinds of formatting cruft comes along with it. Normally I make the time to de-cruft out all the <div> and <span> jive, and maybe I will later today or tomorrow; but I don’t have time right now so I’ll let it stand.

Life Management Platforms

Kuppinger Cole, an analyst firm headquartered in Germany, has been hip to VRM for a long time.EIC award They gave ProjectVRM an award (that’s it there on the right) at the EIC (European Identity Conference) in 2008, and have been following VRM developments closely ever since. A number of VRM developers were there again at this year’s EIC, where I gave a keynote titled “Free Customers: The New Platform”, and the topic was front and center.

In fact VRM has always been about more than relating to vendors, which is another thing Kuppinger Cole has believed as well. It’s been about personal empowerment, and better means for dealing with all kinds of organizations. There are also many more VRM developers now than there were back then, with many different labels for what they do. We have personal data stores, lockers, vaults, clouds, services and networks, for example. We also have and much activity in overlapping and adjacent development areas, such as with quantified self work, which includes self-hacking, personal informatics, self-tracking and much more.

Martin Kuppinger now throws a loop around all of these with Life Management Platforms, which is also the subject of his paper here. I like the term, and think it does a good job of encompassing both the internal (self-managing) and external (relating with others) sides of VRM.

Martin’s latest post is Intention and Attention – how Life Management Platforms can improve Marketing, in which he notes the main thrust of The Intention Economy, and adds,

Taking this view, the one of Doc Searls, and the idea of Life Management Platforms the way we at KuppingerCole have it in mind shows that this is where things become really interesting: A Life Management Platforms allows expressing your Intention. The Intention is nothing other than a vital part of where your current Attention is focused. In other words: Knowing the Intention is about knowing at least an important part of the current Attention, which is much better than trying to change the Attention. Furthermore, Life Management Platforms could provide more information about the current Attention in real-time, but in a controlled way – controlled by the individual. That allows getting even more targeted information and makes this concept extremely attractive for everybody – the vendors and the individuals.

Control by the individual is what VRM has been about since the start. What I’d like to know now is how Life Management Platforms sits with VRM developers, and others who have been following or involved with VRM from the start.

VRM at IIW

VRM was a hot topic at IIW last week, with at least one VRM or VRM-related breakout per session — and that was on top of the VRM workshop held at Ericsson on Monday, April 30, the day before IIW started. (Thanks to Nitin Shah and the Ericsson folks for making the time and space available, in a great facility.) Here’s a quick rundown from the #IIW14 wiki:

Tuesday, May 1, Session 1

Tuesday, May 1,Session 2

Tuesday, May 1, Session 3

Tuesday, May 1,Session 4

Tuesday, May 1,Session 5

Wednesday, May 2, Session 1

Wednesday, May 2,Session 2

Wednesday, May 2,Session 3

Wednesday, May 2,Session 4

Wednesday, May 2,Session 5

Thurssday, May 3,Sessions 1-5

On Friday, May 4, I also visited with Jeremie Miller, Jason Cavnar and the Locker Project / Singly team in San Francisco. Very impressed with what they’re up to as well.

Bonus IIW linkage:

Complaining vs. Buying

Q: “What’s the difference between a tweeter and a customer?”

A: “One complains, the other buys.”

Just had to write that down. The Q and the A came in the midst of a VRM conference call that also touched on CRM, VRM+CRM, sCRM, trust frameworks, identity and other stuff.

Not saying that’s a fair characterization, by the way. Just that it’s an interesting one.

Google’s Wallet and VRM

Yesterday Google opened the curtain on Google Wallet. I think it’s the most important thing Google has launched since the search engine. Here’s why:

Reason #1: We’ve always needed an electronic wallet, especially one in our mobile phone. And, although others have tried to give us one, it hasn’t worked out for them, because…

Reason #2: We’ve needed one from somebody who doesn’t also have a hand in our pocket. Google WalletGoogle is the only company in the world that can pull this off, because it’s the only company in the world that lives to commodify exactly the businesses that desperately need commodification, and to await interesting consequences. I can’t think of a single company that’s better at causing tsunamis of commodification so they can join hundreds of other companies, surfing them to new shores. List the things Google does but doesn’t make money with, and you’ll have a roster of businesses that needed commodification. What Google looks for is what JP Rangaswami and I call because effects: you make money because of those things, not with them. (Note, not talking about “monetization” here. A subtle distinction.) A Google lawyer once told me this strategy was “looking for second and third order effects.” Same thing. Either way, they’re out to give us — and retailers we do business with — a hand. (But they will need to keep it out of our pockets, which includes data we consider personal. We’re the ones to say what that is, and others — including Google, Sprint, Citi and the retailers — need to respect that.)

Reason #3: This reduces friction in a huge way. It’s not an exaggeration when Google says this on their Vision page for the project:

In the past few thousand years, the way we pay has changed just three times—from coins, to paper money, to plastic cards.

Now we’re on the brink of the next big shift.

What weighs your wallet down? What slows you down at checkout? Sometimes it’s pulling out cash, but most times it’s dealing with cards. In the last few years every store, it seems, has been piling on with loyalty cards and keyring tags. This last week Panera Bread started, and watching the results have been a clinic in business fashion gone wrong. The poor folks behind the counter are now forced to ask customers if they have a Panera bread card, and the customers have to either say no (and feel strange), or to produce one from their wallet or key ring. Yesterday I asked the person behind the counter how she liked it. “We don’t need it, and customers don’t want it,” she said. “We’re only doing it because every other store does it. That’s all.” That’s a pain in the pocket nobody needs.

Says Google,

Google Wallet has been designed for an open commerce ecosystem. It will eventually hold many if not all of the cards you keep in your leather wallet today. And because Google Wallet is a mobile app, it will be able to do more than a regular wallet ever could, like storing thousands of payment cards and Google Offers but without the bulk. Eventually your loyalty cards, gift cards, receipts, boarding passes, tickets, even your keys will be seamlessly synced to your Google Wallet. And every offer and loyalty point will be redeemed automatically with a single tap via NFC.

This assumes that the ecosystem will continue to support the kind of loyalty programs we have today. It won’t, because we won’t and that brings me to…

Reason #4: Now customers can truly relate with vendors. That is, if Google Wallet and participating retailers and other players welcome it. See, CRM — Customer Relationship Management — has thus far been almost entirely a sell-side thing. It’s how companies related with you, not how you related with them. They set the rules, they provided the cards, they put up the websites where you filled out long complicated forms, they send you the junk mail, and they do the guesswork about what you might want, usually because you’ve bought something like it before. But what if your phone has your shopping list? What if you want to advertise what you’re looking for, as a personal RFP for something you need right now, and may never need again? Think of this as advertising in reverse, or what Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) calls “Broadcast Shopping”. This is one example of how …

Reason #5: Now demand can signal supply in great detail. Until now, about the only signals we could send were with cash, cards, and whatever might percolate up the corporate CRM chain from “social” CRM. There’s a lot here (see Brian Solis’ Converation Prism, for example, or follow Paul Greenberg). But those all depended on second (vendor) or third parties (all the petals in Brian’s prism, which actually looks more like a flower). They weren’t your signals. I see no reason why the open commerce ecosystem shouldn’t include that. Why should customers always be the dependent variables and not the independent ones? Speaking of independence…

Reason #6: Now you have your own pricing gun. You can tell a store, or a whole market, what you’re willing to pay for something — or what you might offer along with payment, such as information about your other relationships, or the fact that you just moved here and are likely to be shopping at this store more. (Or that you’re a high-status frequent flyer with another airline, and considering the same for this one.) Why not?

Reason #7: You can take your shopping cart with you. Back when e-commerce began, in 1995, my wife’s sister was the VP Finance for Netscape, so that company was something like family for us, making my wife (not a technical type) an early adopter. One of her first questions back then was one that exposes a flaw that’s been in e-commerce from the start: “Why can’t I take my shopping cart from one store to another?” At least conceivably, now you can. Let’s say you want to shop at Store B while you’re at Store A. This already happens when you scan a QR or a barcode with your smartphone to see if it’s cheaper at Amazon or something. But what if you want to be more sophisticated than that? The implications for retailers can be scary, but also advantageous. After all, retailers have physical locations, which Amazon doesn’t. Retailers can earn loyalty in ways that are as unique as each store, and each person working at a store.

Reason #8: Now you can bring your own data with you. Inevitably, you will have a personal data store, vault, lockerdata wallet (yes, it’s already called that), trust framework — or other combination of means for managing and selectively sharing that data in secure, trustworthy and auditable ways. And your data doesn’t just have to be about shopping. Personal tracking and informatics are getting big now (read Quantified Self for more). That’s stuff we bring to the market’s table as well. The wallet in one’s phone seems a good way.

Reason #9: Now you can actually relate. When a customer has the ability to shop as well as buy, right in his or her wallet — and to put shopping in the contect of the rest of his or her life, which includes far more than shopping alone — retailers can discover advantages other than discounts, coupons and other gimmicks. Maybe you’ll buy from Store B because you like the people there better, because they’re more helpful in general, because they took your advice about something, or because they help your kid’s school. Many more factors can come into play.

Reason #10: Now you’re in a free and open marketplace. Not just the space contained by any store’s exclusive loyalty system. Nor in a “free” market that’s “your choice of captor” (which is one of the purposes of loyalty programs).  Along those same lines…

Reason #11: You don’t have to play calf to every store and website’s cow. The reason you can’t take your shopping cart with you from store to store on the Web is that e-commerce normalized from the start on the calf-cow, slave-master architecture of client-server computing. This is what turned the Web from a peer-to-peer, end-to-end egalitarian greenfield into fenced-off ranchland where vendors built walled gardens for “consumers” who fed on the milk of each site’s exclusive offerings, and also got cookies that helped calf and cow remember each other, but which sometimes also tracked the calves as they wandered off into other gardens. It was a submissive/dominant system from the get-go, and has been flawed for exactly that reason ever since. Google Wallet, at least conceptually, gives you ways in which you can relate to anybody or anything, on your terms and not just theirs. And not just in the old commercial-Web-based calf-cow system. You can divine the bovine right in your pocket, and avoid or correct vendors trying to feed you tainted milk or tracking cookies.

I could go on, but I have a book to write and not much time left. But I consider Google Wallet a move of profound importance, even if it doesn’t work out, so I’m putting this list out there for us to correct, debate or whatever else we need to do . At the very least Google Wallet gives us one thing a BigCo is doing that can mesh well with what the VRM development community has been working on for the last few years. I hope the synergies will get everybody excited.

[Later, in August...] Some additional news:

Stay tuned.

Prepping for IIW

IIWCode talks, talk walksCraig Burton just said in a phone conversation about IIW #12, which is coming up in Mountain View in the first week of May: the week after next. I like the spirit of that statement. Lots of VRM and related development efforts will be present there. Same goes for lots of APIs, and opportunities to improve them and hook them together. So we should see some good hacking done there and shown off as well.

Toward the API side of that, Craig points us to Punctuated Equilibrium, Celestial Navigation, and APIs, a slide deck by Sam Ramji (@sramji), Dan Jacobson (@daniel_jacobson) and Michael Hart (@michaelhart). Sam and Michael are both at Apigee . Michael worked on the Netflix API. And Dan came to Netflix after doing great work on NPR’s excellent API.  Sam gave a great talk along the same lines a few weeks back at Kynetx’ Impact 2011 conference. (Photos start here. My own slides are here.) I hope one or more of those guys can come down, show off what they’re doing and help us out.

I know there will be other newcomers to IIW, though I don’t want to say who yet. (Let’s let that be a pleasant surprise.) What I know is that they’ll bring work they’re doing, and expect to contribute and not just to hang out and talk about stuff. Obviously, we need to talk. In fact, IIW is home to more productive talking than I’ve ever heard at any other conference of any kind, thanks to its open space-sytle format, and Kaliya Hamlin‘s expert facilitation. (Speaking of which, here’s Kaliya’s post about possible IIW topics.)

IIW has been focused on identity for the duration (that’s been its middle name). Identity is still a big issue — maybe bigger than ever — but the contexts have been changing, especially around a core VRM concern: growing independence and capacity for action and interaction by individuals, especially in respect to data we each either gather for ourselves or share with others. This is what the Personal Data Ecosystem (of which VRM plays a role) is all about. On deck at IIW will be many approaches, technologies, protocols and other other developments toward personal data control and sharing. To visit a few, check the last two links.

Craig suggests that the growing connections between individuals and institutions (corporate or otherwise), especially through APIs, constitutes a new form of infrastructure. And, like me, he thinks that infrastructure itself needs to be visited as a topic, since we’ll be making more and more of it ourselves, and in cooperation with others. So, that’s a topic too.

Personally, I think we’re at the end of the Web 2.0 era and at the start of something less numeral and far more profound. Louis Gray calls it the Third Wave of the Web: one that’s uniquely personal. I agree. From the corporate side, this looks like personalization. But that’s not enough. In fact, personalization without personal independence is just more of the same, but with a smaller bull’s eye. We need to be the same independent, sovereign, autonomous human beings on the Net that we are in the physical world. I wrote about the problem with the current (mostly corporate and silo’d) social media matrix in A Sense of Bewronging.

What I say there, and have said many times before, is that we’re nearing the end of a bubble period, especially around “social” you-name-it, and its defaulted business model: advertising. I spoke about this a bit at the IAB (Internet Advertising Board) Annual Leadership meeting in Palm Springs, on February 28. The show’s theme was “The People vs. Data”, and I was joined in conversation on stage with John Battelle (at his invitation, good man). The title of the meeting (with >1000 attending, and in the room) was “Data, Privacy and Control — Unpacking the Role of the Consumer in the Media and Marketing Ecosystem.” John and I had some interesting back-and-forths on our blogs (see here), and carried the same exchange forward in front of many hundreds of folks in the very hot online advertising business. A short video hunk of the conversation is here on YouTube. I have other notes, which I’ll put up after I get back from my current trip. Meanwhile, many open tabs need to be closed, so here is a rundown, in no particular order:

I’ll add more later in two new posts, one about a VRM vertical, the other about a VRM horizontal. The vertical is health care. The horizontal is legal (because it cuts across everything). I suppose identity does too, but we just covered that.

Volunteer some below as well.

Stuff going on

Loose beginnings:

  • Yesterday Thomas Ruddy, who lives in Switzerland and words for the government there, gave me a variant on the old “On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog” line. It was this: “On the Internet, every vendor knows you’re a dog.” And treats you like one, because that’s the way the system is rigged. He’s working with colleagues to un-rig it by developing an open source protocol for relations between personal data stores (aka safes and vaults) and other entities — in which the individual holds the keys what is theirs. Watch that last link (and where it re-directs) for more developments.
  • @xmlgrrl Eve Maler tweets, “Interesting. Crowdmap:CI is exploring non-social and selectively-shared checkin use cases. http://is.gd/k1GcP #VRM #UMACrowdmap is a non-commercial alternative of sorts to Foursquare and other familiar location-based ‘checkin’ systems. (“Checkins with a purpose”, sez here.) It’s from folks behind Ushahidi, which does good in the world.
  • Marketing can do better, says Parable of Kristian (Cruz), citing VRM, which is called “a giant leap towards building an economy where organizations listen up–instead of shout down.”
  • Along those same lines, Valeria Maltoni lists VRM among Three Important Business Conversations in 2010 You May Have Missed, pointing to the post here titled Where Markets Are Not Conversations. That post in particular contains a good summary of the privacy-insulting presumptions of business-as-usual.
  • Nicolas Shriver says “Somehow, Groupon is using Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) to have a better conversion rate for their offer, by letting users pick which offers they are interested in.” Nothing Groupon does looks like VRM to me, but it’s an interesting reference in any case.
  • In The Revival of Peer-to-Peer, Oliver Amprimo writes, “Vendor Relationship Management & Federated Social Web initiatives by Markus Sabadello / @versionvega are useful attempts to push the 2.0 logic further:http://bit.ly/dJjP3q. They are part of a growing movement that has a strong attention to Identity Management with ethics and personal responsibility in mind. For this purpose, they revive the decentralized / federated approaches made popular by Peer-to-Peer (P2P) before the web 2.0 rise and glory. P2P was killed by the music & media industry for the wrong reasons: comfort and refuse to reinvent itself. Web 2.0 remained centralised, transforming consumers as authors, but not owners. This opened doors to appropriation of personal data by Corporations, which found here new avenues for making profits. But this has not closed in no way the gap between Physical & Digital in terms of individual responsibility. Instead, this generated the privacy issue. So, no matter what was said 10 yrs ago to kill it, see how this revival of P2P is to bring responsibility and ethics on the Digital side of our lives.”
  • In Redefining Customer Experience: CRM, VRM and “Disruptive Technologies”, Michael Hinshaw writes, “If we look at CRM as the corporate view of customer relationships, and VRM as the customer view of their corporate relationships, the real promise of “customer experience” as a strategic discipline comes into focus: Straddle these two perspectives and embrace the tools they enable to leverage disruptive innovation in ways that benefit everyone.”
  • Inspirited Enterprise quotes Alan Mitchell‘s The Customer is not King:

    A tectonic shift
    But today that’s changing and we can look at the world through a different lens – that of the decision-maker (the person) rather than that of the decision-influencer (the seller). Once you do this it quickly becomes apparent that this meta-need – to make (and implement) better decisions – is bigger than all other needs (for chocolates, for cars, for current accounts etc) because it embraces them all, subsuming them into the bigger task of achieving what the person (not the seller) wants to achieve.

    Person- or buyer-centric services then, sit on the side of the individual, helping the individual achieve what the individual wants to achieve, including managing relationships with many different suppliers more efficiently and more effectively (VRM, or Vendor Relationship Management). The central questions here are, What challenges does the person face when doing this? How to do it better?

    The difference between now and say, twenty years ago, is that twenty years ago this person-centric perspective was operationally irrelevant. You couldn’t do anything practical to help people address these challenges. When marketers said ‘the customer is king’, it was just a disguised way of saying ‘the organisation is king’.

    Now, however, as information becomes a tool in the hands of the individual, that’s changing. The organisational king is being deposed. This is not about superficial changes in ‘how to achieve the same old marketing goals better’. For example, it’s got nothing to do with arguments about whether it’s easier, cheaper or better to get marketing messages across via social media or mass advertising. It’s a deep, structural, tectonic, remorseless and comprehensive transformation in the relationship between individuals and organisations.

    And if you keep on looking in the customer mirror, you simply won’t see it coming.

And I’ll leave those as the last words (or the first) for now.

Do we have to “trade off” privacy?

Look up privacy trade-offs and you’ll get more than 150,000,000 results. The assumption in many of those is that privacy is something one can (and often should) trade away. Also that privacy trading is mostly done with marketers and advertisers, the most energetic of which take advantage of social media such as and .

I don’t think this has to be so.

One example of a trade-off story is this one on public radio’s Marketplace program, which I heard this evening. It begins with the case of Shea Sylvia, a FourSquare user who got creeped out by an unwelcome call from a follower who knew her location. Marketplace’s Sally Herships says,

There are millions of Sylvias out there, giving away their private information for social reasons. More and more, they’re also trading it in for financial benefits, like coupons and discounts. Social shopping websites like Blippy and Swipely let shoppers post about what they buy. But first they turn over the logins to their e-mail accounts or their credit card numbers, so their purchases can be tracked online.

Later, there’s this (the voice is Herships again):

Alessandro Acquisti researches the economics of privacy at Carnegie Mellon, and he says the value we put on privacy can easily shift. In other words, if giving away your credit card information or even your location in return for a discount or a deal seems normal, it must be OK.

ALESSANDRO ACQUISTI: Five years ago, if someone told you that there’d be lots of people going online to show, to share with strangers their credit card purchases, you probably would have been surprised, you probably would thought, “No, I can’t believe this. I wouldn’t have believed this.”

But Acquisti says, when new technologies are presented as the norm, people accept them that way. Like social shopping websites.

HERSHIPS: So the more we use sites like Blippy, the more we’ll use sites like Blippy?

ACQUISTI: Or Blippy 2.0.

Which Acquisti says will probably be even more invasive, because as time passes, we’re going to care less and less about privacy.

Back in Kansas City Shea Sylvia is feeling both better and worse. She thinks the phone call she got that night at the restaurant was probably a prank. But it was a wake up call.

What we’re dealing with here is an evanescent norm. A fashion. A craze. I’ve indulged in it myself with FourSquare, and at one point was the “mayor” of ten different places, including the #77 bus on Mass Ave in Cambridge. (In fact, I created that location.) Gradually I came to believe that it wasn’t worth the hassle of “checking in” all over the place, and was worth nothing to know Sally was at the airport, or Bill was teaching a class, or Mary was bored waiting in some check-out line, much as I might like all those people. The only time FourSquare came in handy was when a friend intercepted me on my way out of a stop in downtown Boston, and even then it felt strange.

The idea, I am sure, is that FourSquare comes to serve as a huge central clearing house for contacts between companies selling stuff and potential buyers (that’s you and me) wandering about the world. But is knowing that a near-infinite number of sellers can zero in on you at any time a Good Thing? And is the assumption that we’re out there buying stuff all the time not so wrong as to be insane?

Remember that we’re the product being sold to advertisers. The fact that our friends may be helping us out might be cool, but is that the ideal way to route our demand to supply? Or is it just one that’s fun at the moment but in the long term will produce a few hits but a lot of misses—some of which might be very personal, as was the case with Shea Silvia? (Of course I might be wrong about both assumptions. What I’m right about is that FourSquare’s business model will be based on what they get from sellers, not from you or me.)

The issue here isn’t how much our privacy is worth to the advertising mills of the world, or to intermediaries like FourSquare. It’s how we maintain and control our privacy, which is essentially priceless—even if millions of us give it away for trinkets or less. Privacy is deeply tied with who we are as human beings in the world. To be fully human is to be in control of one’s self, including the spaces we occupy.

An excellent summary of our current privacy challenge is this report by Joy L. Pitts (developed as part of health sciences policy development process at the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences). It sets context with these two quotes:

“The makers of the Constitution conferred the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by all civilized men—the right to be let alone.”

—Justice Louis Brandeis (1928)

“You already have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

—Scott McNealy, Chairman and CEO of Sun Microsystems (1999)

And, in the midst of a long, thoughtful and well-developed case, it says this (I’ve dropped the footnotes, which are many):

Privacy has deep historical roots. References to a private domain, the private or domestic sphere of family, as distinct from the public sphere, have existed since the days of ancient Greece.  Indeed, the English words “private” and “privacy” are derived from the Latin privatus, meaning “restricted to the use of a particular person; peculiar to oneself, one who holds no public office.” Systematic evaluations of the concept of privacy, however, are often said to have begun with the 1890 Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis article, “The Right of Privacy,” in which the authors examined the law’s effectiveness in protecting privacy against the invasiveness of new technology and business practices (photography, other mechanical devices and newspaper enterprises). The authors, perhaps presciently, expressed concern that modern innovations had “invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and . . . threatened to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.’” They equated the right of privacy with “the right to be let alone” from these outside intrusions.

Since then, the scholarly literature prescribing ideal definitions of privacy has been “extensive and inconclusive.” While many different models of privacy have been developed, they generally incorporate concepts of:

  • Solitude (being alone)
  • Seclusion (having limited contact with others)
  • Anonymity (being in a group or in public, but not having one’s name or identity known to others; not being the subject of others’ attention)
  • Secrecy or reserve (information being withheld or inaccessible to others)

In essence, privacy has to do with having or being in one’s own space.

Some describe privacy as a state or sphere where others do not have access to a person, their information, or their identity. Others focus on the ability of an individual to control who may have access to or intrude on that sphere. Alan Westin, for example, considered by some to be the “father” of contemporary privacy thought, defines privacy as “the claim of individuals, groups or institutions to determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.” Privacy can also be seen as encompassing an individual’s right to control the quality of information they share with others.

In the context of personal information, concepts of privacy are closely intertwined with those of confidentiality and security. Privacy addresses “the question of what personal information should be collected or stored at all for a given function.” In contrast, confidentiality addresses the issue of how personal data that has been collected for one approved purpose may be held and used by the organization that collected it, what other secondary or further uses may be made of it, and when the permission of the individual is required for such uses.Unauthorized or inadvertent disclosures of data are breaches of confidentiality. Informational security is the administrative and technological infrastructure that limits unauthorized access to information. When someone hacks into a computer system, there is a breach of security (and also potentially, a breach of confidentiality). In common parlance, the term privacy is often used to encompass all three of these concepts.

Take any one of these meanings, or understandings, and be assured that it is ignored or violated in practice by large parts of today’s online advertising business—for one simple reason (I got from long ago): Individuals have no independent status on the Web. Instead we have dependent status. Our relationships (and we have many) are all defined by the entities with which we choose to relate via the Web. All those dependencies are silo’d in the systems of sellers, schools, churches, government agencies, social media, associations, whatever. You name it. You have to deal with all of them separately, on their terms, and in their spaces. Those spaces are not your spaces. (Even if they’re in a place called . Isn’t it weird to have somebody else using the first person possessive pronoun for you? It will be interesting to see how retro that will seem after it goes out of fashion.)

What I’m saying here is that, on the Web, we do all our privacy-trading in contexts that are not out in the open marketplace, much less in our own private spaces (by any of the above definitions). They’re all in closed private spaces owned by the other party—where none of the rules, none of the terms of engagement, are yours. In other words, these places can’t be private, in the sense that you control them. You don’t. And in nearly all cases (at least here in the U.S.), your “agreements” with these silos are contracts of adhesion that you can’t break or change, but the other party can—and often does.

These contexts have been so normative, for so long, that we can hardly imagine anything else, even though we have that “else” out here in the physical world. We live and sleep and travel and get along in the physical world with a well-developed understanding of what’s mine, what’s yours, what’s ours, and what’s none of those. That’s because we have an equally well-developed understanding of bounded spaces. These differ by culture. In her wonderful book , Polly Platt writes about how French —comfortable distances from others—are smaller than those of Americans. The French feel more comfortable getting close, and bump into each other more in streets, while Americans tend to want more personal space, and spread out far more when they sit. Whether she’s right about that or not, we actually have personal spaces on Earth. We don’t on the Web, and in Web’d spaces provided by others. (The Net includes more than the Web, but let’s not get into that here. The Web is big enough.)

So one reason that privacy trading is so normative is that dependency requires it. We have to trade it, if that’s what the sites we use want, regardless of how they use whatever we trade away.

The only way we can get past this problem (and it is a very real one) is to create personal spaces on the Web. Ones that we own and control. Ones where we set the terms of engagement. Ones where we decide what’s private and what’s not.

In the VRM development community we have a number of different projects and companies working on exactly this challenge.  is pure open source and has a self-explanatory name. Others (, and others) are open in many ways as well, and are working together to create (or put to use) common code, standards, protocols, terminologies and other conventions on which all of us can build privacy-supporting solutions. You’ll find links to some of the people involved in those efforts (among others) in Personal Data Stores, Exchanges, and Applications, a new post by  (of Switchbook). There’s also the One example is the and at . (For more context on that, check out Iain Henderson’s unpacking of the .) There’s also our own work at ProjectVRM and , which has lately centered on developing -like legal tools for both individuals and companies.  What matters most here is that a bunch of good developers are working on creating spaces online that are as natural, human, personal—and under personal control—as the ones we enjoy offline.

Once we have those, the need for privacy trade-offs won’t end. But they will begin to make the same kind of down-to-Earth sense they do in the physical world. And that will be a huge leap forward.

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