Saturday, April 26, 2008

Yahoo Open Strategy (Y!OS) vs Privacy

I attended the O'Reilly Web 2.0 Expo Friday at Moscone West in San Francisco where I attended two sessions I'd like to address here. First was titled "Yahoo and Open Platforms - A Deeper Dive" by Yahoo Chief Architect of Platforms, Neal Sample. The second was a (Yahoo-owned) Flickr presentation on "Casual Privacy" by Kellan Elliot-McCrae. (This Flickr photo sharing tool is aptly titled and the technology consists only of a simplistic use of hard to guess complex URL's - once posted to a blog they become exposed to search engines and lose all privacy.)

I often come away from sessions like the first one mentioned above thinking "Wow! There are some scary smart people working on some really incredible things out there." But when looked at through the filter of personal privacy, the "Scary" part stands out for me.

Scary simply because the "Yahoo Open Strategy" takes personal data and distributes Yahoo user profiles across a multitude of Yahoo properties and makes it available to all Yahoo services once a user is logged in. Scary only because it means this database of personally identifiable information on anyone who opts-in becomes distributed widely across those Yahoo properties. I hope that user preferences for which services it is shared with come with their own privacy settings - necessarily complex settings to boot.

I had to miss two Web 2.0 sessions, one Wednesday and another on Thursday that I'd wanted to attend when a work project required immediate attention. Those included one with Joseph Smarr from Plaxo titled "Data Portability, Privacy and the Emergence of the Social Web" and I had heard Smarr speak at WebGuild event on OpenSocial launch in November, hosted on the Google campus.

The second session I had to miss was the Yahoo announcement of "Yahoo Open Strategy" by Ari Balogh, Chief Technology Officer at Yahoo! during his keynote on Thursday. This last announcement was major and has been characterized as a move against the Microsoft takeover bid. Personally, I think it's too big and sweeping to not have already been in progress before the bid became public. It involves reworking the entire system to incorporate the "Open Strategy" into most Yahoo properties, including Yahoo Mail, the home page, their Open Search platform, (announced at SMX West in Santa Clara in March). Bits a bytes of this have been leaking out here and there since then.

My reaction at the SMX show was "Wow, sounds cool!" and I'm still excited about how this might change the face of search and usability, and I'll address that elsewhere, but for now I'm pulling back a bit due to Privacy concerns related to this "Openness" because it makes me nervous that all of the aggregation of data (potentially in the hands of Microsoft) has me concerned about willingly providing all my data to one source.

I had my first privacy concerns when I noticed, on (Yahoo-owned) MyBlogLog, a request for extensive (and yes, publicly available) data from all my social sites. Having had a bit more time to digest this all - and now looking at it in the full light of the Yahoo Open Strategy announcement, It's losing its shininess due to privacy concerns.

The commenter on the previous post where I address this concern points to the MyBlogLog Blog discussing the new tools. But nothing is really addressed there except that this data will be offered to users from their own profile and made available to their own "Friends" if they opt-in. Swell, despite the fact that I want to define my "Friends" and what they see, differently based on they kind of friend they are, (marketing, business, true close friends, co-workers, management, family, etc.)

I'm going to leave that for now and look purely at this one fact: Despite the wonderfully friendly UI and utility of this "Openness" I'm not liking the need to gather all my own data and hand it to others to use as they see fit. In this case, Yahoo, in the future, Microhoo and who knows who else if they choose to "Share" it in aggregate or "Ooops" leak it out like AOL did in August of 2006.

New AOL Privacy Leak

I just don't know that I'll ever give Yahoo, or Microhoo - all of my public data to aggregate (and maybe leak) regardless of how convenient it is (and only on Yahoo-owned properties) or how easy it makes my online life. The aggregation and distribution of public social profiles is interesting, but once it starts getting distributed through API's to each social network or service - you've lost all control of who sees what and when.

This only truly matters if you DON'T want family seeing ALL of your Flickr photos or DON'T want your employer looking at resumes posted on job boards on social networks, or DON'T want your clients reviewing your connections with their competitors on business social networks - this list could go on endlessly and with thousands of DON'T wants - because we've already seen people fired from corporations due to private information or photos or personal associations being exposed on social networks.

Some people live their entire lives in full public view - others prefer a bit of control and security of that data. If everyone gave serious thought to how they want this information shared, it would surprise me. But for those who care, fine control of where the information flows should be an option. I doubt that level of control will ever be available, with the full ability to change or delete all data in all places it flows via API's and "Open Strategies."

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