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Someone is Watching Us; Do We Care? May 4, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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It’s a worthwhile question to ask. Circa 15 years ago, my software team thought about instrumenting the code in our (beta) product so that we would get usage and error data sent directly back to us, which would help us find and resolve bugs, and tell us which features were important.  We didn’t entertain the thought for long, because we believed that our customers would not tolerate having us capture and record their actions with our product, even only in beta.

Somewhere in the intervening years, these practices became acceptable, and in many cases mandatory. To be fair, many of the products today are free (Facebook, Google, Twitter), while we charged a comparative fortune (I believe we started at about 3 grand per seat).  What we don’t pay in cash dollars today we pay by having an electronic watcher looking over our shoulder.

That shift raises a lot of issues. There is nothing new here, but it is interesting to look at what was a radical shift of attitudes during this time.  Were I an economist, perhaps I would try to assign a dollar value to the loss of my insights (privacy?) into using a particular software product.

I’m not an economist, and that’s not my intent. I would like to say that we’ve made a deal with multiple devils for free software, but I don’t think I can even say that.  We’ve received something incredible – almost infinite information, true or not.  We’ve given almost infinite information about ourselves, once again, true or not.

Most, or maybe even all of us, have willingly made that deal. But nobody asked us, at least not directly, not all at once, at least.  If you ask most people, in those terms, it just happened, and they may be okay with it.  But let’s ask.

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