Online Privacy from a Different Angle

Lora Bentley
Slide Show

Check out highlights from Lora's poll of industry experts on the topic of online security.

I've read and written ad nauseum about privacy - particularly within the context of a social network.


But what if, instead of finding ways to protect customer information, a company wants to help customers be more aware of what they're sharing?


Bynamite is banking on the idea taking off.


The San Francisco-based startup's co-founders, Ginsu Yoon and Ian Wilkes, formerly business and engineering managers at Second Life, told The New York Times:

It's not about privacy protection but about giving users control over this valuable resource - their information.

And as Carnegie Mellon University's Alessandro Acquisti explained in the story, every search request, every Facebook post, is a transaction in personal information.


As such, the company offers to make those transactions more transparent -- through a Web browser plug in. The software monitors what e-commerce sites and social networks assume to know about a user, compiles that on a single Web page, and gives the user the chance to see how those companies see him or her. The user then has the opportunity to modify that picture - by deleting certain advertisers, or opting out of programs, perhaps.


The more control the user has, the more efficiently information flows between the user and the advertisers, which should benefit both in the long run. Bynamite's founders say they see a day when a user can get discounts or micropayments based on her interest profile.


The idea isn't exactly new to Carnegie Mellon's Acquisti, an associate professor of information technology and public policy. He and two colleagues presented a paper last year on the price of privacy. According to The New York Times, it is awaiting publication. In "What Is Privacy Worth?" Acquisti, Leslie John and George Loewenstein looked at the value individuals place on their private information. According to the abstract:

Individuals assign markedly different values to the privacy of their data depending on the order in which they consider different offers for that data, or whether they consider the amount of money they would accept to disclose otherwise private information, or the amount of money they would pay to protect otherwise public information.

If the valuation on privacy varies as much as Aquisti and his colleagues say it does, then no wonder Bynamite's premise sounds so good. What better way to maximize the benefit from personal information than by giving the user control? Otherwise, the advertisers are spending more money on ads that are targeted to the wrong people, and the users spend more time than they want deleting irrelevant, uninteresting offers.,

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 19, 2010 4:39 AM Jeff Yablon Jeff Yablon  says:

Much as I would like that idea . . . or ANY idea to be right, here's the real deal:


I'm not doing a doom-and-gloom thing here. The fact is (yes, I used the word "fact"), security and privacy are now in the realm of quaint little outmoded terms.

It's all well and good to give people "control" through "transparency", but that's like saying that all the features in your software make it great. Nonsense. What makes a piece of software great is when people understand it without a lot of twisting to do so, and can find the features they want without a lot of (read: ANY) hunting.

A few of my musings on the subject, at least one of which Lora has cited:

Privacy. HA!

Jul 21, 2010 12:44 PM Woody ZeldaB Woody ZeldaB  says:

I'm with you: 'The more control the user has, the more efficiently information flows between the user and the advertisers, which should benefit both in the long run.' I agree with you, too, that Bynamite means well in attempting to protect our information from being used freely - but it may be limited as a third-party application.

Some other social-networking sites have thousands of third-party applications their users can install. Because it's impossible to police them all, however, users of these applications run the risk of inadvertently installing spyware, nuisance adware, viruses or other malicious programs. These applications pose serious risks when it comes to identifying theft or even predatory behavior because they typically ask their users to share personal information with strangers.

Wouldn't it be great, then, if one could communicate, chat and share files, photos and video with friends, family and colleagues without having to give up all that information in the first place?

When you join zeldaB, you have and maintain all your rights to privacy. You don't give up anything. No gathering and selling information about you to advertisers; no monitoring your every move; no mandated public profiles that reveal far too much information about you; no hidden terms and conditions specifying that, when you join their community, you're giving them the license to use any content that you post however they see fit.

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