Open ID, Data Collection, and the Cost of Convenience

Good title. Better keep this in mind as a possible paper topic. 🙂

I’m talking about Yahoo! joining OpenID, a blurb on today’s tech news. The idea behind OpenID is an online ID service which establishes a single identity that subscribing websites use instead of forcing you to log in all the time. The fact that Yahoo! has joined up with this service is what brings the subject to national attention. According to the Brandweek article, several sites and online services, such as AOL.com, already participate in OpenID, typically without their users really being aware of it.

It’s the unforeseen consequences that get ya

I don’t know of anyone who would be opposed to having to log in only once instead of over and over again, if only from the convenience angle of things. I know that I’m a bit wary of any sort of ID service from two perspectives, the immense security risk to individuals, and the immense loss of privacy potential in the system. I don’t think that OpenID.org is up to nefarious purposes, but whenever data is collected it becomes very important to ask some followup questions. Who is going to use this information? What are they going to use it for? How will we know?

The internet has been hailed as a democratizing, liberalizing force on society, but in reality the opposite is just as true. When every move and action that we take is recorded, stored, and available for review without our knowledge or consent, the internet can be a tool which removes personal liberty and curtails individual freedoms quite effectively as well. In fact, I remarked in one class last semester that by inventing the internet, we had actually created the until-then parental bogeyman of “the permanent record” which would follow us all of our lives.

The going rate on personal information?

I’m reading Yochoi Benkler‘s Wealth of Networks right now, and in it he discusses the networked information age, and the economic principles behind collaborative “non-market” efforts. It’s an interesting read, and I’m still working through it, so I’ll leave off the commentary for later. However, he does bring up some very important questions regarding the economy of information, which leads to the question of how much our individual personal information (Name, Address, Phone, email address, website, etc.) is worth. It would be nice if the companies which collected our data were legally responsible for reimbursing us for a percentage of any profits which were generated from studies that used that data, but I live in the real world where such things never happen.

At the very least, the Brandweek article is worth the short read. We may not be able to put an actual going market value on what our personal information is worth per person based on the money made off of it directly by marketing and research firms. We certainly can put a value on our own information to ourselves, though.

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