Discussing Data

Some general thoughts on the discussion of data, inspired by Mitchell’s blog post.

When I first started using the internet with some regularity, about 13 years ago, I was suspicious about entering any personal information whatsoever. This was before identity theft was a common occurrence, before I had any money to worry about losing, I don’t think I even had a credit card yet. Some of the fears were based on run of the mill rebellion against “The Man” but some if it was just a reaction to something new.

For many years, whenever prompted for personal information, I would look for a way around having to enter it. If I couldn’t get under it or over it, I would make stuff up…or leave. Creating false accounts gets tiring, because then you have to remember all your lies. Firefox wasn’t around yet to help me keep track of all my phony accounts. I sure do appreciate the password manager and extensions like BugMeNot.

Skipping forward to the present, I still look for a way out of having to enter any identifying data wherever possible. Something that continually annoys me is being required to choose between male and female on a form when I am making a purchase. This should NOT be required to buy a sticker, test beta software or sign up for a social networking site. I’d like to see the end of generalized marketing based on gender and find new ways of triangulating what cat owners are doing that is different than dog owners.

Back to the data…

Even though I hate the thought of anyone assuming they know me because of a few hastily checked radio buttons, I also want the freedom to go about my business on the internet as easily as I do in real life – with my driver’s license and a bank card. I have proof of who I am and I have money – what more do you want? I should now get to do whatever it is I’m looking to do with as few clicks as possible.

So if the future web browser allows me to safely keep all the important stuff handy, to know that I am who I say I am, and let me skip the 3 page sign up process, this is a Good Thing.

How can we get to that kind of level without talking about data and all the good/bad/lukewarm associations we have with it?

I tell people all the time that they should be using Firefox because it is the safest. People care about safety, and this is what they need to hear. If Firefox starts to work with data, I trust that we will do so in the best interest of the people who came to us for safety. I’m excited to talk about data and what we can do with it.

My hope is that data collection will become less of a top-down “Tell me this information or you can’t access {fabulous service name here}” and instead will become the equivalent of the clerk at Best Buy asking you for your postal code and being able to say “No, I don’t want to give that information to you, but I will still buy Rock Band from you”.

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