Spending Privacy

Cool post from Scott Adams, very thoughtful and thought-ivates me. Scott paints a rosy picture of how much more efficient and fun an evening out might be if you could broadcast your location in a world with lots of receptive products and services. Near the end of the post he says:

The keys to this imaginary future are twofold: First, the world needs universal technology standards for smartphones to negotiate with their immediate surroundings.

We have a pretty good foundation right now with GPS on mobile phones and WiFi/3g. With new discoveries like Steve Perlman’s incredible-sounding wireless tech and innovative businesses like SimpleGeo, we will eventually see the kind of low-latency negotiation between person and service that makes location high-performance. I don’t think we’ll see a “universal standard” per say, but enough consolidation that device manufacturers and service providers will breathe profitably and continue to invest and create.

But here’s the rest of Scott’s wrap-up:

Secondly, people would have to get comfortable with a world in which systems that are connected to the Internet are aware of their locations. According to everything I read, that’s the sort of privacy violation that older people would resist and younger people consider no big deal. Personally, I would trade my location and identity privacy to get the benefits I described, as long as I could turn off my identity broadcasting feature whenever I wanted.

This (and the whole post) makes think about location in a more granular (and vertical) way. Privacy in this context becomes something that you “spend” or exchange for other value/benefits. It’s a transaction. The metaphor is not new but I like it. If I think of location sharing as a micro-transaction and if the service using my location has sufficient resolution (or if it’s bucketed in a specific category of services — video games, for example), then I have control — or at least a pretty solid perception of control — over how my location-infused information is used.

This is different from the Minority Report intrusive-advertising thing because the Place of Interest (POI) is controlled by me, not the other way around — it’s pull  (me pulling what I want) instead of push (services pushing content to me). As Scott says above, I want to be able to stop broadcasting whenever I want, but that’s an oversimplification. There are two pieces to it: where I share what and what I share where. Both will affect how much value I get for the privacy I’m willing to spend.

In my view, our rote location and basic identities are one of our least expensive privacy purchases. The high-dollar items are the data that’s being gathered about what we do (and can be used like a dossier to generalize “who we are”). While it’s obvious that sophisticated Web services (Google, Facebook — especially Timeline — for example) are scraping our histories and habits in order to create higher click-through rates (and charge more for those clicks), I think location has the potential to create services that are much more than user-generated content with an ad revenue model.

The pull model encourages competition for customer action, which will probably require a content investment by the service — entertainment or otherwise — to compete. If I subscribed to a location-based gaming network, for example, the games I play, how well I play and where I play might enable the network to accurately suggest other games for me — differently at different locations. This kind of real value loves a subscription model, too. Location-based services of the future (really all services, because the day is coming when all services are location-based) will compete on how well you know them and how well they know you.

Right now, it’s mostly the “layer” metaphor — turn different layers off and on based on simple preferences for any location. No granularity, no logic behind the scenes helping make my life easier. It’s a dead-simple user-controlled filter. As more algorithmic and logical control of sophisticated filters are deployed, we’ll see better ways to interact with and manage our location-based privacy spending.