Privacy is different for everyone. Robert Scoble is happy sharing, while I would hate showing off pictures of my daughter to my Twitter followers or even checking into a grocery store on Gowalla or Foursquare. Add the conflicting goals of a site like Facebook — which wants to make money from people’s data — to the disparity between people’s tolerance for sharing, and we’re faced with labyrinthine privacy policies and confused messaging as big services try to please a huge section of users, most of whom who don’t want to sit down and go through 170 options to change their privacy settings.
Now even Congress is getting involved — but wireless analyst Chetan Sharma proposed an interesting idea last night in his first-quarter wireless data analysis. The analysis is worth checking out (for example he notes how Verizon (s vz) edged past Japan’s NTTDoCoMo for the first time to become the carrier making the most money selling wireless data), but his suggestion for dealing with privacy is worth sharing with those outside of the wireless industry, who might otherwise miss it:
If people are really serious about tackling privacy, OEMs and carriers should build a physical/soft privacy button on the device with 3-5 levels (just like for the ringer volume) that allows users to open/close privacy across all applications and services with the touch of a button. All apps and services should adhere to the principle via APIs. The other mistake companies make about privacy is by treating everyone the same. Privacy is about the perception of control and transparency. If it is given back to the consumer, they are likely to engage more and have a more positive impact on revenue streams that are likely to flow.
Clearly there are issues with this, including the fact that it would only work on mobiles, and that most people have different settings for different apps. Implementing such a button would also require the carriers or handset makers to work together with app developers without trying to hijack standards or access to the information. But the idea of a privacy middleware layer or a service is intriguing, be it on a handset or as another layer in the cloud. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
Related GigaOM Pro Content (sub req’d): Could Prrivacy Be Facebook’s Waterloo?