FIRST PROBLEM – PRIVACY
The first problem is about control of your private information. Today, our “personas” — demographic and preference information — are spread all over the web and we don’t know where, or who has the data or what they are doing with it. (At this point I **always** am met with nods of approval. People get this very clearly and are worried about it, but they haven’t realized anyone was working on a solution.)
So the first solution is to create protocols and opt-in business rules that allow you to take charge of your “persona” and manage your privacy. But you’ll need help to do this. This new role is for what I call “infovalets” — like trusted agents of advisors. (With this lead in, people have no problem understanding what we mean by “infovalet,” BTW.)
We hope news organizations will see this as a new business opportunity — operating as “infovalets” — because the sale of news alone is not proving so far to be a viable business on the web. News organizations, and probably other new companies, can both help people find the information they need to get through their day and be informed citizens — and help users manage their varied “personas” in various circumstances — whether consuming news, or interacting with a doctor, banking or connecting with a government service.
By the way, a good analogy is to the sale of real estate. It used to be that all real-estate brokers legally represented the seller of the house — getting the highest price for the seller. But about 20 years ago, a lot of states made it legal for brokers to also act as “buyer agents” — getting the lowest price for the buyer. The infovalet concept is like a buyer agent for information, and for the control and sharing of private information. That role doesn’t exist now on the web, for the most part.
As I’ve worked on this from the perspective of a journalist, I’ve also learned that there is a whole group of people, some at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School and others within the federal government and major companies, who are working hard on this privacy and identity problem.
SECOND PROBLEM – CIVIC INFORMATION
— The second problem is about assuring the availability of important civic information and news. Right now, if you want to buy information on the web, you have to have multiple accounts at multiple places — each time, typically, pulling out your credit card and typing in registration information. You have to remember another password. And you have the worry about what this new site is going to do with the information you’ve provided. So the second big problem we’re looking to solve is a way to give you one ID, one-account, one-bill access to information from anywhere — kind of like an “easypass” for the web.
I used to think of these two issues — managing personal privacy and making it easy to buy/sell information — as separate problems for the web — managing personal privacy and making it easy to buy/sell information. But it turns out each is dependent on the other for reasons which have to do with the way the web was originally set up.
To traverse multiple web services with one account requires a new trust and identity infrastructure that doesn’t now exist. And to make information purchase as easy as a toll pass which works on multiple toll roads — or a credit-card that works at many merchants — requires that one-account facility. So that means the place where you have that one
account — that one place to manage identity — has to be part of a network of common rules and protocols. I don’t mean to say that you would necessary have a single account for all information sharing and privacy management. Most of us have more than one credit card. But the best system for consumers will be one in which, no matter who you choose as your most-trusted infovalet — your newspaper, bank, telco, ISP, affinity
group — each run across the same system — the same tracks, the same grid.
That’s what the Information Trust Association proposes to specific and
foster — but not directly run.
Actually, for “persona” management and one-ID simplicity, there is such a network in place now. It’s called Facebook. With it’s “Facebook Connect” facility, you can log into hundreds of thousands of websites with a single credential. But the rules, protocols, and most of the data collected as a result — are all controlled by one private, investor-owned entity — Facebook.
Increasingly, major companies and the government are concluding that is not good public policy. And so the need for a public-benefit service that specifies protocols and rules, but allows multiple, competitive “infovalets” — is clear. Facebook could be part of it and might be the single largest “infovalet.” But the public interest requires that there be more than one and that the public have choice of levels of privacy, demographics and
Also, for simple information purchasing, there is also a network in place right now. It’s called the iTunes store and Apple has about 225 million credit-card enabled customers for music, games, apps and, soon, books, and magazine purchasing. But here again, it’s a closed system; only Apple has the keys. It needs a little competition.