Saturday, January 28, 2006

Privacy: Spying on Yourself Online

With myware, soon you may be spying on yourself online according to this CNN/ Business 2.0/ article outlining a new startup which is proposing an application called "Myware" in a play on the better known "Spyware". The concept is being promoted as a way to gather and protect ones own personally identifiable information online through a service called "Root Vaults" and an affiliated organization called "Attention Trust" which measures the amount of time spent and frequency of visits to particular web sites through an extension to the FireFox browser.

The concept is being promoted as a way to gain access and control the information gathered (by users of the browser extension) during surfing online.

But the water is muddied here by combining the Attention Trust, which may have laudable goals, with Root Vault, which is purely a data brokerage. A visit to the Root Vault site clarifies that it is purely a commercial enterprise seeking control of user information in order to become the broker of that information to advertisers, web site owners and email lists. There are currently four buttons on the site with only one for consumers and three for potential purchasers of member information.

Currently, support is coming from entrepreneurs and investors, and based on the angle and tone of the CNN story, it appears that they may also be early investors in Root Vault by referencing AttentionTrust.

The first place to visit upon visiting the Root Vault is the "Privacy Policy" to see that users are agreeing to provide ALL of their surfing information to the Root Vault web site and company and that major "clients" of the site are financial institutions, made very clear in this excerpt from that privacy policy:

Our product and service providers, which primarily are banks, mortgage lenders and brokers, have entered into agreements with us, and they are required to comply with the Root Markets Code of Conduct, which incorporates, among other things, the federal and state privacy regulations. Those product and service providers may contact you by telephone or e-mail or postal mail directly after they receive your information even if you have opted into the National Do Not Call List administered by the Federal Trade Commission, any state equivalent Do Not Call List, or the Do Not Call List of an internal company.

The apparent attraction to consumers interested in AttentionTrust is the ability to access, edit and control their own information, when in fact, they are providing extensive surfing and online behavior information about themselves to buyers of that information through the Root Vault service and giving up privacy they had previously, including "Do Not Call" list protections. Root Vault suggests that users will have complete control through AttentionTrust, but that control is limited to information that has not been released or sold already.

This Root Vault service appears upon even casual review, to be a wolf in sheeps clothing and a fairy tale about privacy protection which is lent by affiliation with AttentionTrust. Users will be spying on themselves with AttentionTrust browser plug-ins and providing all data gathered to make money for a third party broker (Root Vault) of information working for financial institutions and loan brokers seeking leads. It is inevitable that data aggregation achieved through the AttentionTrust MyWare browser extension, when coupled with any data brokerage services, will do more to erode and reduce online privacy of users than to protect it.

Attention Trust is threatening any potential good they might do for privacy protection by very early affiliation with data brokers and aggregators like Root Vault. This murky pond combines good (control and access of personally identifiable information) with bad (data brokers and email spammers seeking that information) and confuses privacy protection with data sales. If AtttentionTrust hopes to gain traction at this early stage of development of such a platform, it will have to studiously avoid any implied connection to or support of data brokerages.

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posted by RealitySEO at 12:58 PM


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