As we race towards the semantic web 3.0 of automation, covergence and 3D virtual reality, it was interesting today to see two completely seperate stories which illustrate both sides of the conflict to which I feel like a referee. Second Life

On one side we have the cry freedom and ease of use:

IBM, ‘Second Life’ open borders for virtual worlds

The concept of opening doors on the closed wall garden of any given technology and get it out there has got to be about ensuring brand longevity, allowing it to take on a life of its own. Its risky, it challenges the uniqueness of the offering and lets go of control, which done badly could have detrimental financial or brand value issues. But in this case, I really do think it’s a case of ‘if you love somebody let them go’.

The time it takes to develop a virtual persona initially, then to duplicate that across different sites… I mean I get frustrated typing in my email across different sites, let alone filling in forms! So to allow a user’s interest to grow by investing more time creating a more realistic avatar, adding more and more each passing day, to allow it to grow arms and legs – we’re talking users investing in fully-fledged character development. A virtual me that can transcend borders and be the same persona that origniated within Second Life, but now in my Instant Messenger, on Facebook or on my blog – it has obvious merits, from loyalty to longjevity. “But such a virtual passport system may be years away, if it doesn’t first fall prey to the kind of conflicting interests that occasionally bog down efforts to draw up standards in the fast-changing technology industry.”

That conflict of interest resides with the other side of the argument:

Technology’s challenge to privacy

Grouping people together by age or gender is very different to identifying an individual.  That was the point of Data Protection – yet the orginal Act seems light years from where we are right now, as it could never have second-guessed what is happening at alarming rate online as people give away personal identifers on social network sites. Besides, loyalty cards have long exploited loopholes of unique identifiers by assuming consent due to a business transaction and/or reward mechanism.

“Privacy and data protection laws have long relied on the twin pillars of notice and consent whereby consumers are notified of, and consent to, the collection, use, and disclosure of their personal information… Critics argue that both notice and consent are today little more than legal fictions, as consumers ignore overly complex notices and shrinking technology makes it virtually impossible to obtain informed consumer consent.”

So it is great to see that the real question of ‘how to control Big Brother, when we all want to do is tune in and watch it’, is finally coming to light. The danger is we hand our control over to a nanny state as we obvioulsy can’t be left to our own devices, as we do not realise what we are doing. The willingly handing over of personal info on Facebook proves just this and has been recently picked up by the media.

How to stay safe on social sites

Nanny states are one thing – ban smoking and increase taxes on cigarettes, as you obviously can’t be trusted to give up yourself, so we are going to help – but Michael Chertoff, US Secretary of Homeland Security, however wants to go one stage further. He has urged for further data collection and finger printing, outlining his “vision of a broad surveillance society – supported by massive databases of biometric data collected from hundreds of millions of people.” The temperature suddenly plumets to the icy depths of hell.

Whatever happened to the innocent until proven gulity of a democratic world? I guess he is hoping our response will be, well, we have ‘nothing to hide’…