“Social” Services as an Inversion of Traditional Privacy

It occurred to me today that by using public (or semi-public), social services for bookmarking (del.icio.us), tagging, event listing (Upcoming.org), and goal listing (43Things), i’m essentially taking information that I would traditionally hate a company to have, and making it publically available.

With tagging, i’m even taking care of classifying and organizing my traditionally private information – what i’m interested in, where I’m going, what i’d like to do.

My usual attitude towards data mining is that it’s a bad thing for privacy. So what does that mean when I don’t want companies like Choicepoint compiling general personal information? It’s an aversion to any company trying to aggregate information about me without my consent. It’s creepy to think that my old addresses and phone numbers are on sale for the highest bidder. What else might someone be able to buy?

But then, I look at my use of del.icio.us, and it’s almost like a sort of cognitive dissonance. I’m basically providing a public profile of keywords that i’m interested in, connected to both my real name and my personal blog. I look at Upcoming, and there’s a list of events that i’m interested in, along with keywords associated with those events. Taking a gander at 43Things, and I list goals of my own as well as things i’ve done.

Put that all together – you could theoretically data mine a pretty extensive profile of someone’s online interests by using open API’s from all these services. But it’s not like anyone’s invading your privacy to extract that info – you’re inverting your privacy preferences by putting it up for the world to see in many cases.

Sure, you might limit it to FOAF in certain privacy-aware networks, but it’s still centralized somewhere.

But is it outweighed by the community usefulness of such tools? I think it’s worth it to consider for a second that all information you’re publishing and tagging on these services is basically public information. But it’s so handy, that I’m almost okay with it.

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