Spying on consumers is a fast-growing business


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spyingDocSearls declared July 31, 2010 as the day the privacy tide turned in his long and generally excellent blog post about online privacy and the “Data Bubble”. It was prompted by the Wall Street Journal article series that explains, without mincing words, that “one of the fastest growing businesses on the Internet is the business of spying on consumers” (which includes mention of Abine as a solution against it). But of course Doc Searls’ thinking and writing on this topic goes back years.

One of the points he quotes/paraphrases from Eric Clemons is that “ads cannot be the sole source of funding for the internet” and “there are numerous other business models that will work on the net, that will be tried, and that will succeed.”

At Abine, we’ve been saying this for a long time, especially since some object to the protecting peoples’ privacy on the grounds that there’s no other way to support the Web. (By the way, even if that were true, we think peoples’ privacy rights still come first).

Data Bubble is a nice term because it expresses the distortion in the Internet economy that has been brought about by overvaluing behavioral ad delivery and selling of users’ data without their consent. Expect to hear it more in the coming months.

It’s truly a great post, except for the last part that was disappointing — when he suddenly and briefly says that Google and other “back-end data companies” could potentially be the good guys here and helping users shop in the new economy of demand management.

Now, the VRM (vendor relationship management) project and associated attention-routing ideas may be part of the way forward here and what Doc Searls was thinking about when he wrote that. But it is too tempting for companies and too confusing for normal people to straddle “good data collection” and “bad data collection”, or “good privacy violation” and “evil privacy violation”. That’s why Abine’s never been involved with any of the back-end data companies or the “helping you shop” mission – our only mission is enhancing your online privacy, from software tools to cleanup services.

One Reply to “Spying on consumers is a fast-growing business”

  1. It’s naive to think that Google — despite their “do no evil” mantra — could potentially be the good guys here. And “good privacy violation” is an oxymoron that none of us can afford to put in the hands of anyone else. I look forward to signing on to your service.

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