The Technium

Total Personlization Needs Total Transparency

Writing in the Guardian, Seth Finklestein says: 

We cannot expect that having large warehouses of data on individuals will be free from unintended consequences, especially when there are incentives to try to build highly detailed models of everyone’s lives. The price of total personalisation is total surveillance. 

I have a different phrasing: 

The price of total personalization is total transparency. 

Transparency suggests a more active role, rather than an imposed view. You have to BE transparent.  And of course, it is impossible to have total personalization with perfect knowledge.

of us.  Transparent-Sim

  • Trevor Cooper

    I suppose this entails stricter moral standards for us all. Public figures will have to be saints. Or else society will have to adopt a more tolerant attitude toward personal indiscretions and a more realistic view of human nature.

    I think that, like everything else, morality evolves. Steven Pinker’s talk at TED showed us this is happening.
    I think these technologies will have a big effect on this trend and I hope we’re all better for it.

  • Perfect Personalisation is a really failed vision.
    Personalisation to an extend is good. But if I am given choices according to my older preferences only, how would I explore the beauty of this world?

  • I am all for “total transparency” as long we get rid of the currently predominate top down, one way systems in our society and replace them all with networked alternatives (energy, government, education, media, etc.). At the moment to many people in gatekeeper positions are running windows 3.1 in there brains, to easy to get to a brave new world scenario with that user base.

  • My name is unusual enough that if you use it as a Google search term, my blog and other information about me pop right up. Then I realized that using my name plus a word, e.g. Kent Schnake Drugs
    would usually take someone straight to blog posts I had written that included the word drugs.

    At first I felt a bit uncomfortable about that degree of transparency, especially since I have written quite a few very personal essays in my blog, facebook, etc.

    Then I had and epiphany: the vast majority of my life has been observable by other people. My appearance, my body languge, much of what I say, and much of what I do has often been seen by my fellow humans (including the information from hundred of “security cameras”). Those fellow humans have been free to tell virtually anyone they like what they have seen of me or heard from me. They are also free to bias their observations in the telling. So why should I be worried about the sort of transparency afforded by the WWW? Compared to the amount of data collected about me by human observers, it is minor.

  • Joe Konn

    Greater transparency would suggest ‘higher’ moral standards, but I find it highly unlikely that those standards would be ‘stricter’. ‘Stricter’ implies more compliant to some set of rules, much like the Christian right, or the Catholic Church or Hassidim would like to enforce. ‘Higher’ standards might allow that tolerance and understanding come to the front. When we can see humanity as they really are, as opposed to the fantasies we currently accept, we will be less afraid, more realistic. Greater transparency is the long term trend of history and it reveals a better and better view of this wonderful universe.

  • Anand Mani

    I argued for a long time that total transparency of our live would re-create intimacy in our communities; rather like the villages of old. I have since changed my view. The villages were not under constant psychological assault with organisations thousands of miles away trying to manipulate the villagers’ choices without their knowledge.

    Personalisation is a joke because it is formed on an assembly line.

  • Steve Witham

    A mafioso might say that paying his “protection” fee is “the cost of doing business in this town.”

    We aren’t talking about personalization as in me paying cash for seat covers and installing them in my car. We’re talking about companies spying on me for their own reasons and painting a “personalization” face on the side of the process facing me. “Hey Steve, good to see ya! Enjoying those seat covers?”

    There is nothing necessary about this mess unless you mean it in the cynical mafioso sense. In any case it’s not driven by personalization but simply by the ease and profitability of collecting and storing data about customers.

    There are ways to personalize our lives that don’t require our choices or actions to be revealed to others. If we fall into transparency or ubiquitous surveillance, that cost should be charged to our not having developed and defended privacy.

    It’s hardly technology criticism if you start by accepting current worst practices as simply part of the nature of things.

  • I think it’s worth pointing out that; it’s highly likely that a person, at this evolved stage of hypothetical transparency, would not be able to access a network of any type, without providing their own personal data.

    A remedial example;
    If you are going to comment on a blog, you are required to use your real name. In doing so, I’m provided with a link that traces back to your blog; network; portal — whatever the term would be.

    We’ll also probably see an introduction of reputation rich people with profiles built exclusively by other users. This will ultimately change the value of personalized information. Transparency isn’t the issue. It’s validating the seeker/prospect against their existing contributions. A user couldn’t be involved unless they have contributed in some fashion. If this transparency is merit-based, it would neutralize the delusion of surveillance. This will actually force a change in morality.

    • Kevin Kelly

      Marc, I am not sure I understand what you mean by “merit-based transparency.”

  • Kevin, guess I missed your response– I mean to say; we’ll get what give. And we can only give what we’ve been given.

    Steve Witham makes an excellent point, but aggregation methods are easily foiled. And personal context, despite what the semantic web claims to be capable of, is not definitive. Personalization is still only an *option for most users. Tools like Google’s image labeler and meta tags will never define something for everyone–universally.

    In an odd way, a lot of the decisions on the web are made as easily as a Roman dropping a black pill or a white pill into the vase.

    I’m more concerned about mobile technologies more-so, than anything. Not only will there be contexual data, but we’ll have migration patterns too. ;)

  • Kevin, thanks for pointing to Seth Finkelstein’s article in The Guardian, which I had missed. Nevertheless I wrote on a similar theme for the Wireless Government Report last May: “Do Ubiquitous Networks Lead to Ubiquitous Surveillance?” see