Cross posted from 1to1, where Ginger Conlon and the 1to1 team were kind enough to allow me to guest post.
Should Customers Control Their Own Information?
by Christopher Carfi
Information about us--our actions, our activities, our current "status," and the like--are increasingly public, shared...usually willingly...on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. However, a number of current trends and issues highlight that we, as customers, may want to take a more active role in managing those bits of social information (and much, much more). As more of our information moves into the Network, do we really know who is looking after it on our behalf?
On October 11, T-Mobile announced the following
to customers of their popular Sidekick mobile device: "Regrettably,
based on Microsoft/Danger's latest recovery assessment of their
systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on
your device--such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or
photos-- that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been
lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger." (Note: On
October 15, T-Mobile issued a follow-up message that some of the data
had been recovered, and the restoration would begin "as soon as
possible" for affected users.)
Similarly, on October 12, a group of more than 3,000 customers on the photo-sharing site Flickr found that one of their favorite online community discussion groups had been deleted by a Flickr staff member, effectively deleting more than 5,000 community-created conversation threads, according to this account by one of the group members.
So, what would you do if you were one of those affected customers? What if all of your phone book contacts disappeared overnight? What if a community that you had helped create suddenly vanished, and took with it thousands of the words and thoughts that you had passionately created over a period of years?
As the Network Age has evolved and more services have moved into the "cloud," many customers have delegated authority and absolved themselves of the responsibility of controlling their own information.
We are seeing, however, a number of initiatives that have the possibility of bucking this trend. Groups of active customers are beginning to take charge of their own information--information as diverse as heathcare, fitness, and home power consumption. (An exhaustive list of "personal informatics" resources can be found here in a great post by Doc Searls at LinuxJournal.)
So as more and more of service providers take more and more of your information, always be cognizant that it is your information, and that you do have the opportunity to take an active role in how it is curated (can you make local backups of the information in your phone's contact book?), shared (do my service providers have granular levels of privacy settings that I can set?) and protected (is my data stored in an encrypted form, and who has the keys?).
We as customers are becoming increasingly "virtual" as more of our information moves into the network. It is our responsibility to take care of our "data assets" in the same way we take care of our physical ones.