Dr. Pentland, an academic adviser to the World Economic Forum’s initiatives on Big Data and personal data, agrees that limitations on data collection still make sense, as long as they are flexible and not a “sledgehammer that risks damaging the public good.”

He is leading a group at the M.I.T. Media Lab that is at the forefront of a number of personal data and privacy programs and real-world experiments. He espouses what he calls “a new deal on data” with three basic tenets: you have the right to possess your data, to control how it is used, and to destroy or distribute it as you see fit.

Personal data, Dr. Pentland says, is like modern money — digital packets that move around the planet, traveling rapidly but needing to be controlled. “You give it to a bank, but there’s only so many things the bank can do with it,” he says.

His M.I.T. group is developing tools for controlling, storing and auditing flows of personal data. Its data store is an open-source version, called openPDS. In theory, this kind of technology would undermine the role of data brokers and, perhaps, mitigate privacy risks. In the search for a deep fat fryer, for example, an audit trail should detect unauthorized use.

Steve Lohr, “Big Data Is Opening Doors, but Maybe Too Many

So, I don’t really get how Pentland’s system is going to work any better than the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) work that was done a decade ago. Spoiler alert: P3P failed. Hard. And it was intended to simultaneously enhance users’ privacy online (by letting them establish controls on how their personal information was accessed and used) whilst simultaneously giving industry something to point to, in order to avoid federal regulation.

There is a prevalent strain of liberalism that assumes that individuals, when empowered, are best suited to control the dissemination of their personal information. However, it assumes that knowledge, time, and resourcing are equal amongst all parties. This clearly isn’t the case, nor is it the case that individuals are going to be able to learn when advertisers and data miners don’t respect privacy settings. In effect: control does not necessarily equal knowledge, nor does it necessarily equal capacity to act given individuals’ often limited fiscal, educational, temporal, or other resources.


… test version of a data-mining tool in Delta’s offices, and he was surprised by the technology’s power to collect vast amounts of personal information using one start point. Jackson volunteered his Social Security number and watched the tool retrieve his address, the names of his neighbours, his wife’s name, and the date they were married, all from publicly available information. Some of the Delta employees had been test subjects already, and when his own personal information stated popping up for all to see, Jackson joked he’d seen enough. But the demo convinced him that the government had to have this capacity. Not because he wanted it. But because he was afraid he couldn’t do his job without it.

Shane Harris, The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State

Could Google+ Depend of Google Now’s Success?

MG Siegler recently argued that:

Google+ is a turd.

I’m not sure why everyone seems afraid to admit this. I think it’s similar to the reason why some seem reluctant to call Windows 8 a turd when it’s already abundantly clear: people are scared that such a bold statement could come back to bite them in the ass. But it won’t. Both are clearly turds.

Google continues to try to cram Google+ down people’s throats, but it just won’t stay down. People are gonna keep puking it right back up. The only compelling feature of Google+ is Hangouts; everything else is a carbon copy of some social activity that people can (and already do) do elsewhere. Google simply made a bad call and started chasing the wrong thing (social) far too late.

I wonder how long it will take Google to admit defeat here? I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of the shoving of Google+ in our faces first — Chrome, you’re next. But I really wish Google would take all the energy being put behind this dog and use it to blow out their truly interesting and innovative products, like Google Now.

I think that the of Google+ could depend on Google’s capability of linking signals from their social networking product with their Now product. Currently, Now can ascertain things like when you’re near certain locations or about to perform certain actions (e.g. near a bus stop/station or about to take a flight) and provide relevant and helpful data to the Android Phone user. This is really cool and, if you’re comfortable with this degree of personalized data mining, potentially convenient.

What Now presently lacks is the ability to tell me that when I’ve a break in my day (based on Google Calendar analysis) and a friend also has a break (based on an analysis of their calendar) that we could mutually meet for coffee or meal. It similarly lacks an awareness of my colleagues and friends to suggest that there are special non-birthday dates coming up. Same thing for mass-mining of check-ins (to figure out what my social community eats, and where they do it often) and preferred news and website content.

The thing is, all of these functionality elements could be implemented if there was widescale adoption and use of Google+. This means that updated version of Android need to get to millions of handsets or, alternately, Chrome need to deploy Now functionality (something that code analyses suggest is imminent). Either/or could encourage people to adopt Google+ to get heightened personalized data mining. Yes, you read that right: (perceived) helpful surveillance could get people to intentionally adopt products that facilitate useful personalized insights.

The key issue – beyond pure legal and regulatory concerns – will be whether this kind of mining is seen as ‘creepy’ or not. If the Now product is seen as cool, feature rich, opt-in, and not privacy infringing – and is adopted by a significant portion of the masses – then Google could offer personalized services in excess of those offered by Twitter and Facebook today. This might be the ‘nudge’ necessary to get a significant portion of the social graph onto Google and consequently elicit a network effect sufficient to turn Google+ into a viable and useful social networking community.

If Google+ is seen as a gateway to improved Now information, and if users see Now as a feature they want more of in their life, then Google+ could see a fresh (if somewhat forced) breath of life. A key question, however, is whether the advantages of a cool product offering are sufficient to get people to ‘jump ship’ onto a largely empty social networking platform. It’ll be curious to watch because if Google is successful they’ll have found a way to create a social graph in a novel manner, one that other companies may subsequently attempt to replicate.