Saturday, March 08, 2014

Buying Privacy

Reading  this NYT article about how data privacy has become a luxury good reminded me of a client I worked for some years ago. A technical architect, F was a freakishly smart – able to out-produce a dozen seasoned developers all by himself. And he made it look quite effortless. He was able to communicate well with business and operations folk too – a very rare combination in my experience. 

He  told me once that he made it a point never to use a loyalty or rewards program, usually paid cash for his groceries and if that was not enough randomized his shopping  “habits”  to confuse any algorithm that was trying to learn about him. Each trip he bought a couple of things that totally did not “fit the pattern”.  

As part of his day job he had build a very clever search and recommendation engine that was making the company a lot of money. So there was some irony in his determination to not give his own data away.  He considered his efforts a form of citizen service too – he was adding noise in the mix that was helping the rest of us who were not nearly as fanatic about our privacy.

I can see how F might someday recruit a volunteer crew of “data noise makers” to muddy the waters just like him. It is a cause many feel quite passionately about.

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