April 02, 2006

Jigsaw & Web 2.0: The Return of Privacy Concerns

As a market trend, Web 2.0 has been getting a lot of buzz, particularly on the social networking slant. Voluntary social networks such as LinkedIn have enjoyed a lot of success (at least in mindshare and user volume, anyway). I've long considered blogging to be a form of networking, and of course Wikis too, especially in the collaboration department.

While Web 2.0 is many different things to many people, one could say that social networking and collaboration are rivers that run straight through it. The main idea has merit: Lots of people contributing their individual knowledge to the whole to create something bigger and more useful than just the sum of its parts. Sounds great, doesn't it?

But just like Web 1.0 in the 90's, along comes something that gives one pause as to what direction the Brave New World will take. Back then, it was emerging privacy concerns from web usage tracking, and plans to link online and offline activities and data (DoubleClick, anyone?). For better and worse, Commercialism invaded the pure collaborative energy of the Net, and things began to take off in a different direction. Spambots, adware, spyware, and other controversial technologies came into existence and changed our online experience, probably for a long, long time.

Most recently, Jigsaw seems to fated to play the role of the privacy heavy. The WiredGC's post, "Hold on to Your Business Card", links to TechCrunch ("Jigsaw is a Really, Really Bad Idea") to get recovering attorney Michael Arrington's savvy take on it. Adding my own opinion, that makes three technically-inclined and informed attorneys who think this is a bad idea. The posted comments at TechCrunch are also a good read.

Basically, people are being paid $1 per business contact they upload into Jigsaw's online database, whether the referenced individual likes it or not. This service aims to provide salespeople, recruiters, and marketers with inside contact information they can't obtain (or as easily obtain) elsewhere. The tagline on the home page states, "Buy, Sell and Trade Business Contacts".

While one can easily see the value proposition, thus far it sounds like there is no way for a person to delete their originally-uploaded information. One can only annotate it, and that's a big difference. This lack of "Opt Out" mechanism runs counter to commonly accepted data privacy principles. One could also dive into a discussion about the business ethics and why an "end justifies the means" rational is usually a slippery slope. I note with mixed feelings that I found my contact information in their database, and if given the option, I'd probably remove it. Again, most of the comments posted at TechCrunch were resoundingly negative.

Thus If Jigsaw wants to play in the Web 2.0 sandbox more for than a brief stint, I seriously suggest they learn to play nice with others' data. Public opinion, particularly in the blogosphere, can make or break a startup, and it would be unwise for them to ignore this reality, even if this generates a "buzz". To me, Web 2.0 is about voluntary collaboration. I could see where some may want their business contact information available, say for new business development opportunities or recruitment. Others may view it much more darkly, and that's their prerogative. For a good discussion of these issues, see Release 1.0's article "Anti-Social Networking", which interestingly I found linked on Jigsaw's site.

In my mind, Jigsaw needs to better sort out the puzzle they've created, and fairly soon. They need to better balance the competing interests. Most importantly, providing an easy and visible Opt Out option should ease some of the tensions and perhaps build back some of the lost goodwill and integrity. Even better: Send an e-mail notification to each person when their contact information has been uploaded to Jigsaw, and give them the option to correct or delete the information. Then Jigsaw could truly boast they have the most accurate information, since the contacts themselves would correct it. Now that sounds much more like Web 2.0 to me.

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
Posted by Jeff Beard

Konstantin, I couldn't agree with you more, well said. However, I seriously doubt that Jigsaw's management would go the opt-in route, given the predatory approach they've taken with others' data.

It's pretty obvious to me that they wanted to populate their database as quickly as possible from the masses, and you can't do that with opt-in.

Opt-out provides Jigsaw with a faster population driver, and still allows us to remove ourselves as desired. But it's not perfect: Unless the service provides a future block on uploading, a person such as myself would have to search Jigsaw regularly as others could re-upload my contact info any time thereafter. So, you're right, opt-in would definitely better address the individual's needs.

I just view the entire endeavor in poor taste, particularly the questionable business ethics of all involved. Jigsaw is the facilitator, and the uploaders are just as bad. Perhaps the "Anti-Social Networking" article best summed it up: They are breaking the implied social contract and trust created when providing business cards and other forms of contact information.

In a sense, this model isn't too dissimilar from the original Napster. Napster's members provided the unauthorized shared data (MP3's), and Napster was held accountable as the facilitator of it all, primarily because they provided the central database or index. Granted, that involved copyright issues, but again, a similar model.

Posted by: Jeff Beard at April 4, 2006 06:51 PM

Is opt-out really acceptable in this case? I think the correct way of doing this would be for Jigsaw to send a message to everyone who was uploaded, telling them who uploaded their contact info and and asking them for permission to be put into a lead database.

In other words, if you don't do anything, you are not in Jigsaw. I think opt-in is the way to go, especially if the database where you are being entered is very clearly a lead database for sales people.

Sales people can provide a useful service when they contact you about a product that can help you, but if you didn't put in any information as to what products you want to buy, then their calls are likely to be annoying. And often, your contacts have your direct line or even mobile phones. I think a human-mediated system like InnerSell has a few extra safety valves . . .

Posted by: Konstantin Guericke at April 3, 2006 12:10 PM