The San Jose Mercury ran a story last week to say Google + was failing to challenge Facebook in any significant way. This weekend we saw Facebook become embroiled in a pubic furore over how it occasionally experiments with user-emotions. Trouble at the data mill!
You might plausibly argue that the common denominator in these developments is data. Doesn’t every brand want data about you? And doesn’t mobility make that data so much richer – augmenting browsing habits with data on your location, for example? But isn’t the public also becoming wary of the long list of apparent privacy breaches, the scary camera in Glass, the social network as laboratory?
The tech giants are walking a tightrope with data, according to attendees at last week’s launch of The Respect Network, a new association of companies that want to transform how data is managed.
Google + retains value for Google because it allows them to collect richer data on users. The new trend towards wrist-based computing is primarily about collecting data. But here’s the real rub – it’s no longer the case that tech brands are collating and selling contextual data. They are actually capturing whole identities.
The Respect Network members are offering personal clouds with a personal cloud name – a name registry where the instance is your personal data cloud. Their argument? You can take your identity back.
For half a century brands have been trying to second-guess customer intent. Digital, going all the way back to the 1990s, promised them there would be no more guesswork – they would know so much about customers that all advertising would have a rich context, one where the customer intent would be a trigger that they, the brand, could pull.
Some of that context is happening, but it tends to be in-store. With beacon-type technology it is now possible to log how long a customer spends in specific areas of a shop and to shoot them a discount coupon to pressure the sale.
The speakers at the Respect Network pointed out that what the tech giants are overlooking is that reversing the pattern of data ownership and involving consumers in the process presents technical challenges as well as sociological challenges, just as interesting as beacons or those that Mark Zuckerberg allows scientists to study on Facebook.
The Respect Network along with Bit Torrent’s Sync project are attempts to frame solutions to problems that Google and Facebook are running into with increasing frequency. How to respect privacy yet sell more effectively. That’s a big challenge, as big a challenge as scaling a server farm to handle a trillion photographs. The answer is you – you own your own identity and your own data platform and along with it the reinstatement of privacy as a public virtue. Will Google or Facebook bite?