Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Privatization of Privacy

In a recent Newsweek piece called Privacy is Dead, Jessica Rose Bennett peels back the post Face book packaging of personal background profiling to support her case. Using her own identify as the target she is pegged for a druggie because she once filed a story addressing pot production in the Golden State. I wonder what "state" that would find her employability score in if her undocumented preference for bourbon had also surfaced?

Whether the metric of interest is number-specific such as our number of network contacts or a hodgepodge of inputs that concoct abstractions like "aggressive demeanor" or "persistent complainer," only one thing matters. Those placeholders in the source data cannot go unpopulated. They must be filled even if it's with erroneous facts. Empty cells are neither "on" or "in" the table. The business case is not premised on accurate reporting but a rationale to freeze-out entire hiring pools of potential new hires with a blink of a single metric.

We are long past warning our kids not to sanctify their latest drinking game conquests as some post-worthy rite of passage. A simple flag can be raised without a single infraction.

The check box will be populated one way or another and it tips in favor of a demerit any time the target wants entrance into the increasingly exclusive club of gainfully employed Americans. That's because filtering out a ballooning number of applicants within some quantifiable range of conduct is now a done deal. And as our author as pothead example illustrates, questionable data can perform this function just as reliably as an accurate and verifiable fact base.

A profiling application has only one clearinghouse to hurdle -- none involving civil liberties,due process, or the quaint idea of privacy -- a notion that has as much to do with our 21st century citizenship status as the constitution has to do with affirmative action, bomb-sniffing dogs, unicorns, biblical verses, or holding onto our jobs and homes.

The only true barriers to subscription-based rating systems such as those described by Ms. Bennett is the ignorance of the subscriber and the discretion of the service provider. The chances we'd be cut into the loop of our own demise? Question time: when's the last time you got a full post interview accounting of why you never made the final cut?

It's that veil of closed-loop decision-making ensuring complete privacy is maintained ... for all employer-subscribers. Unlike a delinquent payment in a credit report there is no traceable course of events. Most of us don't even know how these scores are produced, let alone what they mean or that they even exist. Finally, there is no reportable consequence. Having your car repossessed is reality. Remaining out of work after you were invited back for the second round? That's a non-event. For falsely-accused professionals who can connect baseless accusations to the effect on their business? There's a service for that called Reputation Defender.

So there's no incentive for profiling customers to wise up or even own up to retaining such services. The only buyer motivation in terms of background screeners is to find the same thing for less. And that's the passive end of the profiling frontier.How about the blunter tools at the disposal of hackers? How about the malicious assaults now being plotted on tomorrow's Android devices?

There was a data glyph published in a recent issue of BusinessWeek that shows the ongoing price for the scattered pieces of our transactional identities. Email addresses and credit card numbers are available in bulk, an acknowledgment that deactivations are present in every batch. Some others command a far heftier per profile fee. In fact the price of a login credential increases with the balance on the account it's accessing. Pure genius. Quaint, this notion of privacy -- like a nod to the days when phone security was about dropped calls and lost phones.

Who said that all consumers were created equal? Certainly not in any termination contracts that include the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of other people's identities.

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.