Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Web 2.0 and privacy - are we really ready yet?

I spotted 3 quite different posts today, all relating to issues around privacy and web 2.0.
  1. Rudder.com accidentally gave its customers' data away
  2. In Day of Reckoning for PFMs?, @mikelinskey reports an apparent problem where the PFM site Rudder.com was (still is?) e-mailing confidential account information to the wrong customers (as well as getting their balances wrong as a result).   (The story was subsequently picked up by TechCrunch, as well as by NetBanker.)

  3. Mint.com is thinking about selling its customers' data
  4. Rudder.com was presumably sharing its customers' data by accident (if one can euphemise it in that manner), but ReadWriteWeb then picked up on a report from Bloomberg that Mint.com is considering monetizing (selling) the aggregated data it has collected about and from its customers.   Although the aggregated data is supposedly anonymised, the ReadWriteWeb post points to further work demonstrating how easily and accurately personal data can be reattributed.

  5. Google wants to hold on to its custmers' data longer
  6. And finally, the BBC reports that Larry Page has argued against the European Commission's plans to force Google to ditch the data it collects about its users after 6 months, saying that this would reduce Google's ability to spot and map pandemics (Page was demo-ing how Google had been able to spot the  like the Mexican Swine 'Flu pandemic ahead of the authorities).

All of which got me thinking: web 2.0, by definition, has more and more people creating and publishing more and more different types of information, some of it personal, in more and more different ways.   And more and more businesses are storing more and more information about us in ways that we probably don't understand even if we're aware of them.   And yet, I suspect that few of us have given any real thought to how this might impact on our personal privacy.

The businesses that facilitate web 2.0 have no choice but to pay attention to these issues, even if its customers do not adequately do so.   There is an implied social contract between the creators and the users of web 2.0 applications - regardless of what their legal terms and conditions allow.   Facebook has only recently felt the backlash that can follow if customers feel that this contract is not being honoured.   I suspect that Rudder.com is also busy discovering the consequences of what happens when you betray that trust!

Tobey Macguire (or was it Stan Lee) said: "With great power must also come - great responsibility".   Web 2.0 brings great power to us all - the power to create and to communicate.   Do we yet understand all of the responsibilities and risks that come with it?