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Recognizing the Tilt in the Playing Field

There's a good article, the first I've seen, about fledging efforts to recognize and to remove the tilt in the U.S. e-commerce playing field. Today, the playing field is heavily tilted toward companies sharing, buying, selling, and making money with consumers' personal data... often to the consumers' disadvantage, including identity theft.

Denise Caruso wrote in the October 7 New York Times about some of the impacts of the new crop of web sites -- like, Basecamp, and Dopplr -- that collect even more personal data than sites have collected before:

"This type of sensitive, sometimes proprietary information was once locked up on hard drives or in file cabinets far away from anything resembling a global or even a local distribution network. Yet none of the users flocking to these services seem perturbed that they have relinquished personal control over this data to companies that, even with the best of intentions, may not be able to keep it safe."

The article clearly emphasizes consumers' complicity with this:

"As long as [consumers] are willing to relinquish some personal data, Web applications have long allowed us to create virtual identities that can conduct most of the social and financial transactions that typify life in the real world."

Caruso adds:

"The incidence of data theft — from wallets to data breaches, computer viruses or Dumpster diving — is soaring. This year alone, the security of nearly 77 million Americans’ records has been breached, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego, nearly a fourfold increase over 2006."

Perhaps most importantly companies -- not just consumers -- are beginning to recognize the problems with the tilted playing field:

"... some security experts are starting to ask whether the “identity data-for-services” business model, which is the engine for virtually all e-commerce companies, is a fair trade — not just for consumers, but for business as well. In response, they are coming up with new protocols and frameworks for collecting, using and governing identity data... they aim to shift the status quo in ways that could help companies both improve their reputations with customers and avoid the mounting legal liabilities that now face companies that lose control of customer data."

"Status quo" is a nice way of saying tilted playing field.

Caruso also writes about the CloudTripper Project, which explores new technology for consumers to “take their data with them” as they surf the Web, just as they keep their wallets and checkbooks with them as they travel in the real world. Maybe this is the start of efforts to achieve a better balance in the U.S. e-commerce system between the personal data security needs of consumers versus the money-making needs of corporations.

I hope so.


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