The dark side of open: (lack of) Privacy

dark side of the moon - pink floyd.JPG

I don’t normally like podcasts since I have a hypertext mind and I tend to view content as a series of links and connections – and that helps to form new connections (as opposed to listening linearly which I find boring) – but occasionally I do listen to podcasts and this one from Tim O Reilly is worth listening inspite of it’s meandering flow especially at the outset

Open source is just the beginning

In it, Tim raises some key points which I have been tracking for some time and which will increasingly become more important going forward.

1) The future of Open is ‘Open enough’ a term which he kind of struggles to explain – ex Twitter, facebook and iPhone are ‘open enough’ and that Open is not a binary discussion

2) Also, he believes that ultimately closed communication systems do not work(ex non interoperable IM systems) and the social graph is going to be open

3) Friend model will be replaced by the follow model

4) But then he comes to the most interesting point in my view: Going forward, Open is about data . Hence, the biggest databases are the most interesting and some of the biggest databases are Identity and Location.

Now, here is my take on it (so from this point on, its my analysis) ..

As everything becomes a platform i.e. the data can be opened up – there are huge opportunities to create new services. Of course these will be useful to users

The basic idea seems to be:

a) Open up a data source

b) Allow developers to create applications based on it

c) Allow users to enrich the data by adding metadata

If that is done, then following the basic Web 2.0 tenets – here is potentially the dark side:

a) The provider who controls the META DATA wins(not the data- but the meta data: Think book reviews on Amazon here: You own your customer reviews on Amazon but Amazon owns the collective rating from all the customers for a given book)

b) The more ‘open’ we are – the more data we share. The more data we share, the more it can be co-related to enable behavioural targeting – something I discussed in Unharnessing collective intelligence: A business model for privacy on Mobile devices based on k-anonymity

The biggest data sources being opened up today are: Government as a platform and the Smart Grid (See LTE and Smart Grids: A huge opportunity for Telecoms and the Cloud but with caveats for privacy )

And unless we are not careful .. We will risk giving control of Meta data to providers

In itself that’s not bad .. But certainly we need to raise awareness of the issues at stake

Expect to see a lot more consumer benefit slogans re ownership of data etc etc ..

Smartgrid news explains this as ..

Google’s reasons for launching PowerMeter are neither as altruistic as the company will imply, nor as nefarious as their competitors will claim.

In the early days, Google will try to position this as a consumer benefit with slogans such as “consumers should own their own energy information.” But Google will get push back from several groups. Consumer watchdogs will sound the alarm on privacy concerns and on Google as Big Brother.

So, in my view – the (lack of) privacy is the dark side of Open.

Image source: The Dark side of the Moon – By Pink Floyd.

Not exactly related to the topic on hand except the name and that I like it :)


  1. sasha says:

    yep. anything free and open has its price. another question we should answer is how important our privacy is. it seems to me that nowadays being mad about privacy online makes no sense. if authorities or crackers wish to learn some personal info about you they undoubtedly will no matter how well you protect it. concepts of sharing and openness are good in a nutshell. it seems to me that we have reached a point of no return and now have to live with a fact that everything we do online is public.