VRM growing in the garden of privacy concerns

With Swedes: Closet VRM activists?T.Rob gives us a typically deep VRM post, exploring new territory, or old territory in a new way. The context (and the subject of an interesting thread on the ProjectVRM list) is the news behind headline of a Simon Davies post: Sweden’s data protection Authority bans Google cloud services over privacy concerns. Sez T.Rob,

So the big problem with privacy, VRM tools and the cloud isn’t that the technology needs to be invented, but rather that the current IT culture assumes the vendor has rights rather thanprivileges to harvest and exploit your data and that you must opt out rather than opt in.  If you start with an assumed right to the data, then of course the apps that get built ignore existing privacy enhancing technology.

T.Rob raises some creative existing solutions to password problems — solutions that have thus far been outside of VRM conversations. A concern I have, within VRM conversations, is framing solutions in terms and contexts of the existing marketing system, which is getting more and more complicated by the day. For a better look at that, see this post from January, and Don Marti’s first comment there, which points to this post here.

Having spent most of the last month outside the U.S., what I gather is that privacy is just as big a deal elsewhere — just a somewhat different deal. Here privacy is seen in terms of prophylaxis — and sometimes not-very-good prophylaxis. (Do Not Track, for example, is like hanging garlic on the door of your browser to ward off vampires.) In Canada and Europe it’s seen as an essential attribute of civilized life: one that must be designed into software, services and infrastructure. Leading influences on this approach are Ann Cavoukian, the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Ontario, and her office’s Privacy By Design initiative.

In fact we’ve had privacy by design for a long time in the physical world. Clothing, for example, is a privacy system. We use it to cover our “privates,” among other things. But, while we’ve had civilization for thousands of years, we’ve had the Net for only a couple decades or so. We have a long way to go. But we’ll get where we’re going faster if we’re not re-inventing the same wheels.

And I think we’ll get there better if we ground what we do in a clear understanding of what privacy is, and why it needs to guide the stuff we create and improve.


  1. John Pope


    Another great resource for those of us with an eye on a sensible digital future, thank you.

    A snippet from your linked post “When Consumers Become Media for Themselves” –

    “Everybody who is tired of being just a “consumer” when what we really do is produce (data especially) every time we make a click or a keystroke on our computers or mobile devices” –

    concisely describes the problem we’re working hard to solve – and believe have also discovered an incredibly powerful, commercially viable solution for.

    I have a saying that I coined some time ago, “In a digital world, every action is a transaction.”, which I think sums up much of what you, Don Marti and T. Robb wisely build awareness of, and subsequently advocate for new paradigms to eventually manifest.

    It would be great to share more with you on what we’re doing, if you’d like to reach out off-thread.

    Also, thank you very much for writing “The Intention Economy” – it validated and crystallized a lot of things for our company’s development.

    Best regards.

  2. Doc Searls

    Thanks, John.

    I just wrote you directly so we can proceed off-thread. 🙂

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