Monday, September 09, 2013

The NSA, Privacy, Trust and Tribes of Trust

While I was writing Innovation Zeitgeist this summer (June and July), the only part of the book that I got some pushback on was the suggestion that the Internet was so important, but so difficult for even sophisticated users to manage (phishing, cybercrime, privacy issues) that I predicted that "tribes of trust" would emerge and that privacy would become a major point of differentiation for competitors. The idea behind a tribe of trust was that it represented a managed safe portion of the Internet where you would have higher confidence about information and transacting.

The recent announcements about the NSA and the cooperation of many companies with the NSA has confirmed the importance of digital trust.

I felt like I was going out on a limb when I suggested that there were roughly ten levels of policies on privacy that companies might adopt deliberately or accidentally, but they seem more accurate that I had anticipated. I wrote:

"Roughly speaking one might imagine companies in a market pursuing ten alternative strategies:

  1.        Lie about what information is collected
  2.        Don’t reveal what information is stored about the user
  3.        Reveal policies and superficial description of information stored about the user
  4.        Reveal partial information about what is stored
  5.        Reveal all raw information stored about the user
  6.        Reveal all raw and evaluative information stored about the user including connections to other users
  7.        Allow editing and export of privacy information by user
  8.        Pay user to use their stored information
  9.        Make the information stored useful to the user
  10.   .  Make the information stored useful to the user and charge for it as a service

Today, few companies have been aggressive in their use of privacy information as a differentiator. Perhaps an early sign of competitive use of privacy as a marketing weapon is an internal 2013 video developed by Microsoft ( ). Now leaked outside Microsoft, the video’s theme is that Google tracks everything you do so that it can make money off you. While it may not have been intended as an external marketing weapon, it does illustrate the kind of marketing campaign that might be pursued by aggressive companies in the future.

Some of the larger web sites reveal how long they retain information. But as I pointed out in an earlier chapter, innovation for digital content now includes bundling and unbundling of services, legal rights and methods of monetization. Privacy is, in a sense, no different than attaching the right to re-download a book more than once on an audio book service such as Audible. "

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