Big Brother 2.0?

This is a well-written discussion of the privacy concerns with Web 2.0, including a nice dissection of how the most reasonable business model for the growing number of social networking style sites is their use as data mining sources for a company’s other operations [via Clicked]. For example,

Flickr is perhaps one of the most interesting ones. Search for ‘cat’, and Flickr will record the most popular photo clicked. By associating the colour and picture data within photos with keywords used to search, Yahoo is slowly building a database of human identification. It has often said that the differentiator between Yahoo and Google, going forward, is that Yahoo wants the web processed by humans and Google wants it done by robots. Google uses algorithms to generate anything to do with its business. Yahoo, with its acquisition of Flickr and Delicious and whatever else is on the horizon, wants people – and social networks – to define how it does business.

I like this example a lot as an illustration of the motivations of business for supporting Web 2.0 activities, but it is a bit removed from the problem of personal privacy violations. What scares me the most is the accessiblity and marketing of these tools to increasingly younger and less savvy audiences who may not consider that what they put out there on the internet will be there forever, and that not everyone viewing your information is your friend.
It is tempting to be part of a community – particularly one that it seems so easy to get into and that puts so few real demands on one. But the online communities being built seem predicated on sharing about oneself in a biographical manner – where are you from? What do you do? Show me a picture. Tell me what you like to listen to, or watch, or do. This is, I think, somewhat unlike some of the earlier on-line communities built around BBSs or MUDs or so on, which allowed and really supported a wide range of personal revealment.
I’m interested to see where this plays out in the next five years.

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