A Blog dedicated to exploring privacy and technology

Archive for March, 2014

Reversing Negative Privacy Behaviors Using a Didactic Approach

Posted by Wayne on March 14, 2014

There is an old phrase of death by a thousand cuts. This simple and oft used phrase refers to a slowly occurring negative change, so slow that we often don’t seem to notice and even go as far as to adjust and accept the inevitability of the path that we’re on.

Personally this is what I believe many of us have come to accept when it comes to privacy in the digital age. When a new gizmo or website presents us with a new way of improving our life – we ignore the voice in our head and click through the privacy policy, fill in answers to questions, link other systems to the one we’re in and trade one more small slice of our privacy for convenience.


In fact – I think this picture depicts what it is like – we are led by these tiny morsels of goodness – in trade for heading in a direction. Like Pavlov’s experiment we are trained slowly and in the smallest increments that it is ok to divest our ownership of our own information and acquiesce future control over the use or modification of the information.

The problem with this learned behavior is that the incremental loss of authority, access, and provenance of our data has to eventually lead to bad outcomes. Are all of the data collection systems bad? Not in the least. However as technologies such as the Internet of Things, Cloud, and Big Data – continue to develop ways to create, collect, harvest, and analyze data about us – we are assisting the populating the data warehouses.

So that gets us to what can we do about it? Thankfully there are a number of companies that are starting to tackle just that problem. One example is a company called Lookout which is a mobile app that helps a mobile user digest the privacy policy. We need products that alert us and teach us how to protect our privacy. One of the best models I’ve seen for this kind of teaching method is what Toyota has included in its Prius dashboard.



If you’ve ever driven one – it has a visual feedback mechanism that gives the driver positive feedback when driving economically. I’ve personally experimented with it and if I ignore it and drive it like a big V8 – foot to the floor when the lights change, drive at 80+, etc. I get as little as 40 MPG. If I drive it paying attention to all the feedback and the conditions are right I learn to drive in a way that I can get between 54-60 MPG which is a huge difference in mileage.

This is what we need in privacy – companies that are not leading us down a path of complete exposure but down a path that teaches us how to be far more aware of our privacy risks and alert/monitor that what we are sharing is the right data at the right time. With as complete an understanding of what the data is going to be used for and how as it is put to use. This applies to data in all three phases – in use, in flight, and at rest.

I’m excited because for the longest time privacy protection wasn’t monetizable – companies can’t exist without revenue and wouldn’t be able get investors interested without a solid economic model. Recent events have catalyzed innovation in privacy that have created interest in the VC community as well as for entrepreneurs. I will be talking these exciting new companies over the coming weeks and months on this site.

It is good to be back and a very exciting time for privacy.


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