Saturday, December 10, 2011

Carrier IQ - Wake-up call or simply an evolutionary milepost in mobile tech?

Recent media noise around Carrier IQ software once again highlights the tension between personal data tracking/analysis and its potential benefits to consumers and/or service providers.

What reinforces the sense of scare though is not necessarily the technology or the software itself but the semi-stealth nature of its deployment and implications of its abuse in the wrong hands. It is the after-the-fact discovery of such data collection that enhances our imagery of Big Brother.

For average consumers, privacy often seems to be less sacrosanct and more a commodity with a price.  Don’t we often end up signing off our privacy rights every-time we launch a phone or tablet  app to find a favorite restaurant or to check-in to our favorite social network or to navigate through our weekend drive to a different city? In fact, I was surprised, if not shocked, to get a glimpse of the extent to which the US phone companies already track and keep our everyday call logs, text messages, IP addresses surfed - all tagged with time and location stamp. 

While the bigger question of how an Orwellian government or other rogue authority might abuse such easy and detailed exposure of its citizen’s private data is an open issue that society has to eventually deal with, what probably is more relevant today is how best the business honestly neutralizes the nefarious side of personal data collection by transparent opt-ins and clear demonstration of value. In the end, in a truly open and civic society, it may just be an issue of rightly framing the Value Proposition – what or when data is collected, how it is used and what is offered to the consumer in return, i.e. what perks or rewards am I trading-in for my privacy –  a mature and honest quid-pro-quo.

The truth is that with continuous growth in cloud computing, back-office analytics, GPS-enabled location knowledge and 24/7 online connectivity, the envelope of the technology and its seeming  intrusion on our location, communication and surfing habits will only grow.  Transparency, an equitable value proposition and adequate legal protection are the three tracks on which this train must run.