Is PRIVACY the Software Industry’s SOPA?

This week I am @ Social Media Week in San Francisco where I am totally emersing myself in the world of social media, everything from culture to community to analytics. As the week progresses its becoming obvious to me that the future of social media solutions is totally and utterly dependent on the willingness of people to share, without controls or reservations, their social data (content, profiles, and graphs). In some cases this data is being used to target, influence, and sometimes exploit consumers, in a way that is at best intrusive and at worst blatently invasive. But even in the cases where the data isn’t being used to target consumers or to be intentionally invasive, there is still a risk that the outputs of these solutions can be used in an inappropriate way.

What is surprising to me is that no-one was talking about this elephant in the room; Privacy. This significant dependency on something which is very likely to change and shift in the medium to long-term. Methinks that this is maybe not the most stable foundation on which to build this new social future. This in turn got me thinking about the parallels between the software and media industries. And I promise that I am not completely insane, or at least not clinically so :-)

On the one hand, the Media Industry didn’t see, or chose to ignore, the risk associated with its dependency on physical media, despite the fact that it was becoming increasingly obvious that the Internet was going to change the whole way that media was distributed, consumed, and shared. By ignoring the writing on the wall, it inadvertently became part of the problem. If it had engaged sooner, proactively helping to define the standards, technologies, and business models, then perhaps it could have maximized this new paradigm instead of being hit in the face with it.

On the other hand the Software Industry is seemingly ignoring its dependency on open and uncontrolled access to social data, despite the fact that all the indications are there that privacy controls are going to be introduced at some time in the future. Consumers will want greater ownership of their own data, perhaps even looking to monetize it. They will want greater security around their data, to ensure safety of their physical, financial, and cyber selves. Are we, like Media, not proactively doing enough to prepare ourselves for this eventuality?

So what should we be doing? I believe that we should proactively work with consumer organizations, academic instututions, or standards bodies, that are actively working the privacy agenda. We should collaboratively define open standards that will facilitate the introduction of granular privacy controls in the future, and looking at business models that will support flexible integration of personal data models and ownership.

I hope that we can learn from our Media friends and ensure that we are part of the solution and don’t wait to get clobbered over the back of the head with privacy. Lets not be surprised 5 years from now and then be forced to roll out the lawyers and introduce our own variety of SOPA.

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