How to resist Big Brother 2.0

May 17, 2012 16:45 UTC

The ubiquity of digital gadgets and sensors, the pervasiveness of networks and the benefits of sharing very personal information through social media have led some to argue that privacy as a social norm is changing and becoming an outmoded concept. In this three-part series Don Tapscott questions this view, arguing that we each need a personal privacy strategy. Part one can be read here, and part two here.

As the Net becomes the basis for commerce, work, entertainment, healthcare, learning and much human discourse, each of us is leaving a trail of digital crumbs as we spend a growing portion of our day touching networks. The books, music and stocks you buy online, your pharmacy purchases, groceries scanned at the supermarket or bought online, your child’s research for a school project, the card reader at the parking lot, your car’s conversations with a database via satellite, the online publications you read, the shirt you purchase in a department store with your store card, the prescription drugs you buy – and the hundreds of other network transactions in a typical day – point to the problem.

Computers can inexpensively link and cross-reference such databases to slice, dice and recompile information about individuals in hundreds of different ways. This makes these databases enormously attractive for government and corporations that are keen to know our whereabouts and activities.

George Orwell’s iconic text Nineteen Eighty-Four described the dystopian society where a totalitarian state rules in its own interests and everyone is under constant surveillance by authorities. This situation was often correctly alleged about the totalitarian East Bloc countries during the Cold War. It is unfortunately increasingly true of Western democracies today. In the name of national security, governments are collecting real-time information from us, sampling phone calls, emails and social networks, and taking our biometrics at airports and a growing list of other places.

We have little idea what governments are doing with this flood of personal information. And the aftermath of 9/11 should remind us just how quickly our civil liberties can be undermined in the name of national security.

Recently the New York Times reported that: “Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight.”

The Times reports that this practice has become big business for cellphone companies, too, as carriers market a catalog of “surveillance fees” to police departments to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts, or provide other services.

Sure, you could argue that it’s becoming difficult to restrict the information that governments can collect, and yes of course we need to be vigilant about how that information should be used. But we still need to resist attempts of governments to collect unnecessary information. We still need to fight for the basic privacy principle of “data minimization” – of limiting the information collected to clearly definable and socially helpful purposes.

There should be no tapping of phones or anything else without due process. If a government agency proposes setting up a video camera in your neighborhood, you need to decide if the benefits of possible crime reduction outweigh the possible dangers of unknown governments being able to watch you constantly.

Or increasingly, governments want to collect biometrics information about you – like fingerprints, retinal scans and even DNA. We each need to make choices. Sometimes this benefits you with better government services or faster movement through airports. But what are the long-term implications should a government agency or individual become malevolent? The average person must be cautious and vigilant, and even resist the collection of unnecessary personal information.

To me, it’s not so likely that the future will resemble Orwell’s 1984, or Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon prison, or an East Bloc police state during the Cold War. Those are dystopic models from another era that depended upon a single, all-knowing malevolent power seeking control. The appropriate metaphor for the growing loss of privacy today is found in Frank Kafka‘s The Trial: The central character awaits trial and judgment by an inscrutable bureaucracy for a crime that he is not told about, using evidence that is never revealed to him, in a process that is equally random and inscrutable. In like manner, we, too, will be judged and sentenced in absentia by unknown public and private bureaucracies having access to our personal data. We will be the targets of social engineering, decisions, and discrimination, and we will never really know what or why.

In the private sector, companies want to know more and more about what makes each of us tick – our motivations, behavior, attitudes and buying habits. The good news is that companies can give us highly customized services based on this intimate knowledge – and build trusting relationships. Sometimes it is great to have highly customized ads. I don’t want to hear or see car ads except when I am interested in buying a new car. When I am, I would like to advise the car companies to bring it on! And as the Net becomes part of almost everything we do, the possibilities are limitless for fabulous, customized value for each of us, courtesy of the corporate world.

But there is a dark side. Companies can use our personal information to our disadvantage. Some of these are rogue “bad actors.” In the Rupert Murdoch tabloid scandal in the UK, cellular phone company technicians could sell the location of a specific phone. This way Murdoch’s reporters could track down celebrities.

Now, imagine a world where corporations have near-perfect information about each of us. As the aphorism goes, “knowledge is power.” Could companies go beyond fairly influencing us to being able to manipulate us? Could they abuse their detailed knowledge and cause us to purchase goods or services or take other actions that are not in our interests?

We already live in a consumer society where people go into debt to purchase things they really can’t afford. If corporations had information about our every purchase, articles we read, movies we watch, things we say, places we go, food we eat, medications we take and “big data” from myriad other sources, how could they use that asymmetrical power to advance their interests against ours?

Sometimes the information is used in a very roundabout way. Drug companies buy information from pharmacies about the medicines doctors prescribe to their patients. That way they know which doctors to target for their advertising and promotional campaigns, in the hope that the doctor will prescribe different drugs.

So, given that there are few controls and even fewer companies that practice “privacy by design,” it makes sense to be cautious about what information you provide. Don’t fill out warranty cards. A warranty is valid whether or not you fill out a card. They simply provide information about you to companies. Refuse junk mail, and take time tweaking your spam filter. Don’t let a merchant copy your driver’s license. Never give out your Social Security number unless it’s legally required. Make sure that online forms are secure. Don’t automatically consent to the collection, use or storage of your personal information. Question why people want your personal information. Make it clear that you do not wish your information to be disclosed to any third party. There are many things you can do, while we wait for companies to change how they treat our data.

Moreover, the information you provide has value – to market researchers, advertising companies, social networks and other online platforms. But most companies disagree that individuals own the rights to such information, since people provide the data for free or nearly free. The entire value of Facebook, estimated at $100 billion, for example, is the knowledge it has of its users: their likes and dislikes, what they say, what they do, where they shop, who their friends are, and so on.

The degree of detail Facebook has is mind-boggling. Facebook does not pay users any money in exchange for this information. Facebook insists that it provides a superior service as a result and that the service is sufficient payment. The same is true of Google. It prides itself on its accurately targeted advertising, for which its advertising clients pay top dollar. None of this money is shared with Google’s users, however. If they are selling your information without your permission, they are depriving you of the opportunity to capture that income yourself.

The situation becomes more grim when companies exchange information with one another or with different arms of the same corporation, taking a series of seemingly simple isolated acts and compiling them into a detailed profile of an individual’s behavior. Google recently announced it would share information across its search engine, YouTube downloads, Gmail use and more than 50 other separate services the company provides. Again, this is done so that Google has as detailed a profile of individuals’ behavior as possible so that advertisers will pay more for the possibility of influencing your behavior.

If history is any guide, advances in privacy have tended to arise in the wake of widespread privacy abuses – for example, the negative effects of mass printing presses, the emergence of the fascist state, and the abuses of credit reporting companies in the 1960s. Something similar may be happening today with data breaches and identity theft “in the cloud,” as more and more people come to understand the pain and consequences of personal data misuse.

By all means, be as open as you want, but realize that with openness can come vulnerabilities, especially for your children. “Discretion is the better part of valor,” to borrow Shakespeare’s thought, and that means it makes sense to be careful in the face of unintended consequences and risks.

PHOTO: A row of security cameras in central London, November 2, 2006. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Can we retain privacy in the era of Big Data?

May 16, 2012 17:32 UTC

The ubiquity of digital gadgets and sensors, the pervasiveness of networks and the benefits of sharing very personal information through social media have led some to argue that privacy as a social norm is changing and becoming an outmoded concept. In this three-part series Don Tapscott questions this view, arguing that we each need a personal privacy strategy. Part one can be read here.

Privacy is nothing if not the freedom to be let alone, to experiment and to make mistakes, to forget and to start anew, to act according to conscience, and to be free from the oppressive scrutiny and opinions of others.

It may seem an odd notion today, but in its infancy the Internet was a favorite refuge for many seeking privacy. A famous New Yorker cartoon published almost 20 years ago featured two dogs sitting in front of a computer, with one saying to the other: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

Today such anonymity is essentially non-existent. Practical obscurity – the basis for privacy norms throughout history – is fast disappearing. Our society is collectively creating, storing and communicating information at nearly exponential rates of growth. Most of this data is personally identifiable, and third parties control much of it. This personal data will be archived online forever and be instantly searchable, and few appreciate how many ways this data might be used to harm us.

Yes, likely someday there will be norms, laws and practices governing the responsible use of all this data. But practically, these do not exist today. There is little guarantee that personal information you share from social-media sites is locked down or will not be used in ways that harm you. Much of it can be searched and retrieved by anyone on the Internet, including employers, law enforcement officials, public-sector agencies, infomediaries, lawyers, the press and anyone else who may be interested in the data.

When this data is assembled into profiles, matched with other information and used to make (automated) judgments about (and decisions affecting) individuals – such as in hiring them or admitting entry, calculating benefits or terms of an offer, or corroborating a claim – then the effects of privacy loss include discrimination, especially if the data is inaccurate.

Young people are being denied that dream job simply because they didn’t understand they needed to be careful about what they posted on Facebook. Ninety percent of all employers access young people’s social-media pages when they are considering an application. Seventy percent have rejected people based on what they found. Some employers demand that job applicants provide social-media IDs and passwords as a precondition to hiring.

College applicants are being rejected because of their Facebook Newsfeed. Facebook postings have been deemed admissible by courts during litigation. And in some cases privacy settings won’t help – information you have restricted to close friends can be discoverable.

Privacy is important to our concept of the self and our relationships with others. Even though the human condition requires connection, we also need to feel confident that we can be alone and unwatched when we want to be. Says privacy advocate Ann Cavoukian: “We are social animals who seek contact with each other, and we benefit from sharing information appropriately. But we also seek moments of solitude, intimacy, quiet, reserve and private reflection. These interests have co-existed for centuries and must continue to do so, for the human condition requires both.”

The tension between these needs is a subject of much discussion among psychologists and psychiatrists, described well in Masud R. Khan’s collections of essay entitled The Privacy of the Self. The book discusses our need for living in a community with others but at the same time our want and need to preserve our unique individual selves.

True, we form ourselves in response to one another. But if we are constantly interacting, being scrutinized and revealing everything is there not a danger of losing track of where you end and other people begin? This is why most developmental psychologists argue that personal secrecy is a crucial part of human development.

During adolescence, the period when “the self” begins to gel, there is a critical need to be able to start again, to redefine oneself. But to refashion oneself and embark on a new self-definition, it’s necessary to cut loose from the past. That is hard enough to do when only a handful of people have a clear concept of who you “are.” It becomes infinitely more difficult when your more personal feelings, photos and other private data have been circulated to the world.

Privacy is also important to building strong relationships. Many people have worried that social media increases the number of weak ties we all have, at the expense of strong ties. This is a complicated topic, because all strong ties in society begin as weak ones. In theory, if we can expand the number of weak ties we have, this should expand the pool from which strong ties can be formed. However, true intimacy involves the symmetrical sharing of very personal information. We share secrets with close friends, loved ones and those we might come to love.

So what happens when we begin sharing our secrets with everyone? Could this not degrade the value of truly personal information in building intimate relationships? Part of being intimate is the revealing of secrets and being with the person who knows things others do not.

The term “oversharing” has become a popular cultural meme. It refers to the act or practice of sharing too much information, or TMI, with people who have no need, or are not necessarily prepared or qualified to receive it. Telling a co-worker that you went to the doctor is sharing pertinent information. Telling him or her that you had your hemorrhoids treated is probably oversharing.

The term is pejorative. If you overshare, it can hurt your relationships with others, as much as being rude can.

“Some oversharing is the result of a poorly developed social filter or shut up button” says The WiseGeek blog. “Different people may have different ideas over what constitutes oversharing or TMI, so they may not realize they are making others feel uncomfortable. Once the oversharing line has been crossed, it is often difficult to erase those images from others’ minds.”

Because of the digital revolution we each need to develop better filters, screens and BS detectors to sort through the information blizzard of daily life. But don’t we also need a sense of propriety and responsibility for the effects of what we communicate to others?

In a simpler time such restraint in social life was called manners. Manners are the largely unwritten, underlying ethical codes in society about how we should interact with one other. They have a deep function – to help ensure civility, consideration of others and in some ways civilization itself. Unlike the formal legal system, the punishment for bad manners is social disapproval. Rude people can suffer reputational damage.

Similarly, oversharing can cause reputational damage and hurt relationships. “What’s wrong with that blabbermouth?” “That person is always spilling his guts.” “Why on earth does she think I’d have the slightest interest in that?” “Remind me not to tell him anything confidential.” “I’m afraid he’s just an open book.” “She doesn’t know how to keep a secret.” “What ever happened to discretion?”

Manners change, of course. In the past it would be inappropriate to meet someone without a letter of introduction. But as the LinkedIn referral system shows, some manners encode deeply held norms about human behavior and protocol. They help us to be not just civil but productive as well.

Further, when we share information, we need to be considerate of the interests of related parties. Many young people I’ve talked to have a rule about parties – no tagging of photos without permission. Plan on publishing your personal genome? You might want to discuss that with your children first, as you’re essentially communicating very personal information about them.

Personal reputation management is a new challenge of the digital age. Erving Goffman’s seminal 1959 text, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, needs an update. Goffman used the metaphor of the theater to portray the importance of human – namely, social – action. An actor performs in a setting that is constructed of a stage and a backstage. The props in either part of the setting direct his action. He is being watched by an audience, but at the same time he is an audience for his viewers’ play. Actors strive to be coherent and adjust to the different settings offered them mainly through interaction with other actors, all of whom are attempting to perform in a way that reflects well on themselves.

When Goffman was making his observations in the 1950s, the stage upon which we presented ourselves to others was pretty limited, and it was a physical place, involving face-to-face contact. Today our tweets, Facebook updates, emails, texts, photos, even the places we visit all become public. The number of actors on the stage and the audience have grown exponentially.

PHOTO: A monitoring camera observes Frankfurt Airport, March 3, 2011. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

Should we ditch the idea of privacy?

May 11, 2012 16:35 UTC

The ubiquity of digital gadgets and sensors, the pervasiveness of networks and the benefits of sharing very personal information through social media have led some to argue that privacy as a social norm is changing and becoming an outmoded concept.  In this three-part series Don Tapscott questions this view, arguing that we each need a personal privacy strategy.

Since I co-authored a book on privacy and the Internet 15 years ago I’ve been writing about how to manage the various threats to the security and control of our personal information. But today I find myself in a completely unexpected discussion. A growing number of people argue that the notion of having a private life in which we carefully restrict what information we share with others may not be a good idea. Instead, sharing our intimate, personal information with others would benefit us individually and as a society.

This is not a fringe movement. The proponents of this view are some of the smartest and most influential thinkers and practitioners of the digital revolution.

Jeff Jarvis, in his thoughtful book Public Parts, makes the case for sharing, and he practices what he preaches. We learn about everything from details of his personal income to his prostate surgery and malfunctioning penis. He argues that because privacy has its advocates, so should “publicness.” “I’m a public man” says Jarvis. “My life is an open book.” And he provides elaborate evidence on why this has benefited him, and says that if everyone followed his lead, the world would be a better place. He concludes that while releasing information should be a personal choice, privacy regulation should be avoided.

Facebook is the leading social-media site that promotes information sharing, and part of the company’s mission is to “make the world more open.” In his book The Facebook Effect, David Kirkpatrick explains that Facebook founders believe that “more visibility makes us better people. Some claim, for example, that because of Facebook, young people today have a harder time cheating on their boyfriends or girlfriends. They also say that more transparency should make for a more tolerant society in which people eventually accept that everybody sometimes does bad or embarrassing things.” Some at Facebook refer to this as “radical transparency”  a term initially used to talk about institutions that is now being adapted to individuals. In other words, everyone should have just one identity, whether at their workplace or in their personal life.

Stanford University professor Andreas Weigend, former chief scientist at Amazon.com, says that “the notion of privacy began with the creation of cities, and it’s pretty much ended with Facebook.” He says “our social norms are changing.”

Other thought leaders like Tim O’Reilly (he coined the term “Web 2.0″) or Steward Brand (author of the Whole Earth Catalog) defend an individual’s right to privacy. But they argue that the benefits of sharing personal information are becoming so beneficial to each of us and so widespread that we need to shift the discussion from what to share, to how to ensure the information we share is used appropriately. Says Brand: “I’d be totally happy if my personal DNA mapping was published.”

It may well be that our fundamental ideas about identity and privacy, the strategies that we have collectively pursued and the technologies that we have adopted must change and adapt in a rapidly evolving world of connectivity, networking, participation, sharing and collaboration. But this will take a long time, and in the meantime there are many challenges and even dangers.

To be sure, the digital technologies in general and social media in particular are providing new benefits to sharing personal information, and not just from getting more birthday wishes. There is a real upside to participating in communities, seeing photos, hearing stories or knowing the location of friends and family. Sharing also helps companies deliver personalized products and services. It can improve advertising, as we are targeted for products and services that correspond to our interests.

When we reveal personal information we can help society too. Every time a gay person comes out or someone with depression opens up about his condition, it helps break down stigma and prejudice. Fully 20 percent of all patients with the fatal disease ALS share intimate information about their treatment and condition on the network PatientsLikeMe.com. And tens of thousands of others with rare diseases who use that website report that sharing has helped them better manage their illness.

It is important to understand the extraordinary volumes of data being generated and how this will increase exponentially in the near future. In the course of a day, we generate the same amount of data as had been captured since the beginning of history up to the year 2003. Much of this is information attached to individuals. Our digital footprints and shadows are being gathered together, bit by bit, megabyte by megabyte, terabyte by terabyte, into personas and profiles and avatars – virtual representations of us, in thousands of locations.

In testimony before a congressional committee, Justin Brookman from the Center for Democracy & Technology, outlined the dilemma that citizens face when they want to participate fully in society yet not live under constant surveillance. “There is an incredible amount that we as a society have to gain from innovative new technologies, but there is also an incredible amount that we have to lose. Without a framework in place to assure everyday consumers of the ability to limit the collection and retention of the minutiae of their lives by unknown third parties, any sense of a realm of personal privacy may completely evaporate.”

Brookman cites many examples, such as the record kept of stories read on a newspaper’s website, compared with the anonymity of buying and reading a paper from a newsstand. Or going out for a drive, talking to friends, writing letters, watching TV – “all of these rights are eroding as these activities move into the networked world and surveillance technologies become more sophisticated.” Brookman likens the decision to opt out of being party to the data collection as analogous to opting out of electricity 30 years ago: “To disconnect from the services that collect such personal, sensitive data would be to disconnect from society.”

Before Facebook arrived, few would have predicted that hundreds of millions of people would voluntarily log on to the Internet and record detailed, almost minute-by-minute data about themselves, their activities, their likes and dislikes, and so on.

Soon smartphones (or other personal appliances like sunglasses with an internal screen) will have a persistent connection to the Internet and record nonstop video and audio of everything going on around us. This might strike some people as bizarre. They wonder: “What could I do throughout the day that’s so important that I would want to record it?” This is like asking two decades ago: “What’s so important that I would need to carry a phone everywhere so people could reach me?” Today most people view their cell phones as essential survival gear.

Soon a manager could ask her smartphone to retrieve the last five minutes of yesterday’s meeting with a colleague when they agreed on action items. She’ll transmit the video clip to her subordinates so they’ll know what to do. Businesspeople will archive meetings with associates or suppliers, so that if a dispute arises, they can go back and prove they’re right. Of course, since everybody knows everybody has a recording of the conversation, the dispute is less likely to arise.

Add to this the emerging “augmented reality” tools that can give you real-time information about the world around you when, say, you point your mobile device at the street. For augmented reality to work, the device must know precisely where you are and have a detailed understanding of what interests you. If you can annotate the physical world, a plethora of new capabilities open up. For example, when walking down the street and looking through the screen inside your sunglasses, perhaps you’ll be able to see the names and profiles of people you’re passing.

Lest you think managing all this data would be a nightmare, companies are already working to help ease the burden. Microsoft has a research program in progress called MyLifeBits. The program digitizes, catalogs and retrieves every conceivable scrap of information about your own life that you could want, such as photos, rock-concert tickets and wedding invitations. It acts as a surrogate memory. Google has a similar idea. The company sees the management and retrieval of the massive amounts of data each person will soon generate as an enormous business opportunity.

The tensions between information freedom and personal control are exploding today, and not simply because of the benefits of sharing information using new media. Rather there are massive commercial and government interests, as well as malevolent individuals, that have a lot to gain from each of us revealing highly granular personal information, much of it in the public domain by default and in real time as we travel through life.

But given that there are few social and legal controls over what happens to our personal information, a life plan of “being open” is probably a big mistake. Personal information, be it biographical, biological, genealogical, historical, transactional, locational, relational, computational, vocational or reputational, is the stuff that makes up our modern identity and is the foundation of our personal security. It must be managed responsibly – not just by others, but by each of us. The clear and present danger is the irreversible erosion of that most enabling of liberties: anonymity.

Yes, we need a broad discussion and new norms and even laws regarding what is done with this cornucopia of information. But each of us also needs a personal privacy strategy governing what information we release and to whom.

PHOTO: A “do not disturb” sign at the Ritz hotel in London during its 100th anniversary year, April 17, 2006. Reuters/Stringer

What happened to ‘Yes we can’?

May 4, 2012 17:01 UTC

At this pivotal moment in the presidential race, President Barack Obama and his re-election team need to focus on a key question that could influence the outcome of this year’s election:

How do they get the “we” back?

Good question. We all remember how Obama broke new ground in the 2008 campaign by using social media as a powerful political tool. Obama’s campaign created an expansive Internet platform, MyBarackObama.com, that gave supporters tools to organize themselves, create communities, raise money and induce people not only to vote but to actively support the Obama campaign. What emerged was an unprecedented force, 13 million supporters connected to one another over the Internet, all driving toward one goal, the election of Obama.

When they chanted “Yes we can,” it wasn’t just a message of hope for the future – it was a confirmation statement of collective power. They weren’t waiting to be told what to do; they were actively engaged, calling friends to come to events, learn what was at stake, contribute ideas, and help out in some way. The power of “we” was awesome to behold. The “we” not only raised hope for people but also unprecedented sums of money for the old-fashioned campaign on the ground.

But this time, “Yes we can” has been replaced by a new modus operandi for the Obama campaign. It’s “We know you.”

The Democrats are investing heavily in what’s called Big Data to give them significant new insights into the everyday behavior of each one of their supporters. Big Data allows companies, or political campaigns, to probe and analyze information about you – your friends, your shopping habits, what type of events you go to and when, and what issues you care about. With this information, they can presumably be more accurate in sending messages out over email or in identifying the trigger points that send you to events and get you to donate money.

But whatever happened to the power of the people? Whatever happened to the “we”? We haven’t heard about it since the 2008 victory. “They built the largest online community in the history of the presidency,” says Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Media, which tracks the intersection of technology and politics. “But then they stopped talking to them and engaging them” – that is, until they called in recently with a pitch for money.

Obama did make some efforts to be the first Internet president, with a twitter feed, a blog and the Internet version of the traditional town hall. He launched an open government initiative with the aim of cutting the influence of special interests and giving the public more influence over decisions that affect their lives. Compared with other countries around the world, the U.S. is the gold standard for government openness.

And yet, four years after Obama was elected, nothing much has changed. Rasiej is disappointed: “Lots of us believe he squandered the massive political constituency that was drawn to his message of hope and change.” The 13 million supporters, for instance, could have helped Obama by lobbying their congressmen to back the healthcare legislation. Yet Rasiej thinks the White House, and in particular Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, didn’t believe in the power of “we.” “They went back to the bully pulpit of the presidency. They literally put on the armor of 20th century communications.”

That attitude seems to have influenced the 2012 campaign. In Los Angeles, 33-year-old film executive Haroon “Boon” Saleem can see the difference. Back in 2008, he organized lots of events to galvanize young professionals – comedy nights, debate-watching parties, movie nights where you could meet successful movie and TV celebrities. They spread the word, made friends and helped to raise $1.6 million for the campaign. The ideas didn’t come from the Obama organization. “We just did it,” says Saleem. This time, Saleem is planning to help out, but the Democratic National Committee’s Gen44 is in charge. “It’s perceived as a top-down hierarchy,” said Saleem. That doesn’t sit well with some of the young people who resent being told what to do. “I know a huge number of people who are unhappy,” said Saleem. “They wanted to be connected and involved but they weren’t.”

The Obama campaign may think that it doesn’t need to worry about youth support. A new national poll of America’s 18-to 29-year-olds by Harvard’s Institute of Politics shows that Barack Obama now leads his likely Republican opponent Mitt Romney by a 17-point margin, a gain of 6 percentage points since November 2011. But will young people be as keen to raise money and connect with friends to support the president? Will they go out and vote in huge numbers, as they did in 2008, when 2 million more under-30 Americans voted than in 2004, mostly for Obama?

A senior figure in the Obama campaign tells me that they can’t depend on self-organization in the same way they did in 2008. For one thing, the Obama campaign cannot do or say anything that compromises the president’s first term. As an incumbent, he needs to be more cautious than in 2008, when he was a long-shot candidate.

But that shouldn’t stop the campaign from tapping into the power of self-organization. The Obama campaign itself showed in 2008 that you can let people create their own communities without hurting the integrity of the core message. The Obama campaign set out clear rules of engagement that prohibited, for instance, trash talking about Sarah Palin’s family, said Rahaf Harfoush, who worked on Obama’s social-media campaign and then wrote a book about it. Whenever supporters said something that didn’t jibe with Obama’s message, the campaign made it clear that the outlier didn’t speak for Obama. This time, the Obama campaign could write a clear rider or disclosure statement to the world that the communities do not necessarily reflect the views of the campaign. The community itself could register its approval, or disapproval, of statements by members.

Obama’s digital people also point out that they don’t need to rely so heavily on MyObama.com because there are so many other social networking tools out there. Yet as Harfoush points out: “Facebook is not equipped to help people organize, as MyBo was.”

If the campaign doesn’t return to its winning ways, and fast, it risks continuing to isolate itself. Youth don’t want to be organized; they want to take action themselves. They want to participate, not be passive recipients of campaign instructions. They want to take the initiative rather than be told what to do from all-knowing campaign strategists. The Tea Party understands this; Obama once did too. It’s time now for his campaign to remember the power of “we.”

Does the Kony video point toward global problem-solving?

Mar 26, 2012 18:42 UTC

The  Kony 2012 director who was found naked in the street will remain in the hospital for several weeks. Danica Russell, Jason Russell’s wife, attributed her husband’s “reactive psychosis” to the “sudden transition from relative anonymity to worldwide attention – both raves and ridicules, in a matter of days.”

“Relative anonymity to worldwide attention” is an understatement. The Internet gives new meaning to Warhol’s observation about 15 minutes of fame. Russell is striving to bring Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of the violent Lord’s Resistance Army, to justice for crimes against humanity, and his video exploded onto the global stage. More than 100 million people viewed the video the first week it was online. Many of these people expressed support and donated money to Russell’s cause.

Of course skepticism also went viral. Some questioned Russell’s character, such as when he told a magazine last year that “If Oprah, Steven Spielberg and Bono had a baby, I would be that baby.” They also questioned how Russell was spending the money of the charity he ran, Invisible Children.

I share those concerns, not because I am a critic of Russell or his charity. I think that any organization that attracts that much attention and support has an obligation to be transparent. Courtesy of the Web, we know there will be many more charities, causes and problem-solving groups seeking global fame and thus clout. In fact, we are in the early days of an explosion of new, networked models to solve global problems.

This is good because traditional global institutions are increasingly ineffective.

Throughout the 20th century, nation states cooperated to build global institutions to facilitate joint action and address global problems. Many of these organizations were created in the aftermath of World War Two. In 1944, 44 Allied nations gathered in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to develop a series of commercial and financial relationships for the industrial world.

This led to the creation of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and ultimately to the United Nations (1945), G8 (1975), World Trade Organization (1995), and numerous other organizations based on nation states. Some of these are formal institutions, but some are global initiatives designed to solve a problem, such as the Copenhagen conference on climate change.

But given our inability to come to agreements on everything from how to stop war lords like Joseph Kony to climate change, fighting poverty, Palestinian statehood or governing the global financial system, many people are questioning why existing approaches have proved so inadequate to fixing a broken world. Are the problems simply too hard to solve?

Unfortunately, national self-interest often becomes the priority when today’s challenges demand solutions that involve the cooperation of many countries. And while only 18 percent of the world’s population lives in North America and Western Europe, these two regions possess overwhelming influence thanks to the weight of their economic markets and grandfathered status as the world’s power brokers.

They make little room for the inclusion of authentic citizen voices, despite the fact that Internet-enabled, self-organized civic networks are congealing around every major issue and challenge, and the international agenda.

As Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, argues: “The major shifts in relative economic weight among countries that have occurred in recent decades have naturally led emerging players to seek a more consequential role in decision-making than is reflected in the governance of institutions organized for the most part following WWII. Countries with a vested interest in the current structures have often been reluctant to agree to changes that would dilute their influence.

“All of this makes for an intractable set of global governance organizations that are unable to satisfy the demands of today’s global challenges because they are driven by individualized national priorities,” says Schwab. “History has shown us that while the diversity of national interests provides breadth of perspective, it too often leads us to the lowest possible common denominator on issues of global importance.”

Are there too many countries – 193 – and too many moving parts to produce anything other than the lowest common denominator? A growing number of social innovators seem to think so. After all, Muhammad Yunus and the Flannerys of the Kiva microfinancing network were seeking to alleviate poverty and create economic opportunity in the developing world. They could have tried to reform international development institutions from within or develop new business models within private-sector companies such as banks and financial services companies. But they chose to work outside them instead.

Today, microfinance has created a parallel banking system that has displaced much of the traditional banking and lending structure in the developing world. The aggregate results, notably 100 million customers with a repayment-rate percentage in the high 90s, have proved that a networked, and largely self-organized, system of peer-to-peer lending not only can work but also provides a sustainable way to lift millions of people out of poverty.

So now imagine a world in which new global networks are created to match the scope of the new economic, environmental and security challenges. But rather than basing them on a bloated and inefficient UN-type design, we model them on Kiva – with vast networks of people and ideas united with the full complement of skills and resources needed to translate good ideas into action.

There are movements like the Alliance for Climate Change that attempt to educate, mobilize and change the policy of governments and global institutions. There are broader networks around multiple issues like Ushahidi – the website that was initially established to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout of 2008 and evolved into a global network to enable people to share information and organize for change.

But as the Stop Kony movement shows, the new models raise myriad questions and challenges. These non-state-based models seem to hold great promise, but how do we ensure their legitimacy, accountability and efficacy as vehicles for social justice and global cooperation?

For example, the Invisible Children movement may be inspired, but is it legitimate? In whose interests do the leaders act? How will the many millions of dollars collected via the video campaign be spent? To whom are they accountable? Are they open to participation, at least by appropriate people? The controversial perspective in the Kony video suggesting that the American military is needed to fix the situation raises the issue of who makes the decisions about the movement’s program? It’s easy to criticize current global institutions like the United Nations as inept vehicles for solving global problems, but at least they appear to be representative and legitimate bodies, accountable, in theory, to the national governments that fund them.

Regardless, the train has left the station, and there appears to be no turning back. Old approaches are stalled and multi-stakeholder networks are emerging as a powerful force to fix a broken world.

PHOTO: Jason Russell, co-founder of non-profit Invisible Children and director of the “Kony 2012″ viral video campaign, poses in New York, March 9, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

20 ideas for 2012, part 4

Dec 21, 2011 22:39 UTC

By Don Tapscott
The views expressed are his own.

What will happen in 2012? In the spirit of the aphorism “The future is not something to be predicted, it’s something to be achieved,” let me suggest 20 transformations (which Reuters has published in four groups of five; the first can be found here, the second here, the third here.)  We need to make progress on these issues now to prevent next year from being a complete disaster.

These ideas are based on the research I did with Anthony D. Williams to write our recent book which comes out in January 2012 as a new edition entitled Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet.

All 20 are based on the idea that the industrial age has finally run out of gas and we need to rebuild most of our institutions for a new age of networked intelligence and a new set of principles – collaboration, openness, sharing, interdependence and integrity.  These big ideas will be the focus of much of my writing next year.

16.  A next step for social media: social business?

How is Social Media changing business? Companies everywhere are using platforms like enterprise social networks, micro-blogging, wikis, digital brainstorms, challenges and ideation tools to collaborate internally.  These are becoming a new operating system for a business improving its metabolism-capacity to collaborate.

However, recent examples illustrate that social media is becoming a new mode production that changes the way economies and firms innovate, create wealth and compete.  Beginning years ago with Wikipedia and the Linux operating system and extending today to entire industries like the manufacturing of motorcycles in China.  Closed, hierarchical corporations that once innovated in secret can now tap, and contribute to, a much larger global talent pool—one that opens up the world of knowledge workers to every organization seeking a uniquely qualified mind to solve their problem.

Scientists can accelerate research by open-sourcing their data and methods to offer every budding and experienced researcher in the world an opportunity to participate in the discovery process. Social media is becoming social production.  How can companies benefit rather than being harmed?

17. New models for the music and entertainment industries

The music industry was the canary in the mineshaft for the entertainment industries. Digital music offers an historic opportunity to place artists and consumers at the center of a vast web of value creation. But these novel dynamics have turned the record industry on its head. Rather than build bold new business models around digital entertainment the industry has sought legal solutions to disruption. (The third-greatest source of revenue for U.S. labels is lawsuits against customers.)

Arguably, an obsession with control, piracy, and proprietary standards on the part of large industry players has only served to further alienate and anger music listeners. With artists now increasingly turning against the record industry’s lawsuits, however, momentum may be shifting in favor of a better way forward.

How can customers share music while ensuring that musicians, composers and promoters are fairly paid for their work? How could labels develop Internet business models with the right combination of “free” goods, consumer control, versioning, and ancillary products and services? Could music become a service where consumers have access to online streaming audio of any song for a monthly fee?  What new platforms for fans’ remixes and other forms of customer participation in music creation and distribution are required? How could new approaches apply to other aspects of cultural content like film, television, books and even art?

18. New models for higher education: collaborative learning and content creation

Without fundamental reform, universities will not be able to compete with cheaper and more effective online education providers. While many young people are still going to university, a growing portion of the best and the brightest students have given up attending classes, because the information is available in a more easily ingested form online.

Universities must shift their business model from the centuries-old notion that a professor lectures students, to a more collaborative, interactive model. Instead of being the “sage on the stage,” teachers should be the co-pilot for students as they explore and collaborate online to acquire knowledge.

We also need an entirely new modus operandi for how the content of higher education—the subject matter, course materials, texts, written and spoken word and other media—is created. Rather than the old textbook publishing model, which is both slow and expensive for users, universities professors and other participants can contribute to an open platform of world-class educational resources that students everywhere can access throughout their lifetime.

How can leaders create a Global Network for Higher Learning? If universities open up and embrace collaborative learning and collaborative knowledge production, they have a chance of surviving and even thriving in the networked, global economy.

19.  The new demographic revolution: Embracing the Net Generation as young adults

The world is becoming younger with over half the population under the age of 25.  With many having grown up bathed in digital bits, they are adept with interactive media and completely comfortable with technology. Research shows that those with access to the Internet are the first-ever global generation – with strong norms for freedom, customization, collaboration, integrity and innovation.

As they enter the workforce and marketplace, they are a huge force for transformation in every institution. But are we ready?  How are they different?  What do firms, governments, and educational institutions need to do to embrace them?  What can we learn from them when redesigning our institutions for the new realities?

20.  The New power of the commons

Increasingly it’s becoming difficult or even impossible for companies to achieve breakthrough success without changing their entire industry’s modus operandi. In particular it increasingly makes sense for all the companies in an industry to cooperate for success by sharing intellectual property – placing important assets in the commons.

Pharmaceutical companies are about to drop off what’s called “the patent cliff.”  They will lose 25-40 percent of their revenue as the patents for many blockbuster drugs expire. There is little individual companies can do to recover from this crisis.  They need an industry-wide solution that rethinks how they work together as an industry — to restructure industry practices and share some pre-competitive basis research or sharing their clinical trial data, such as results from failed trials or from control groups.

Banks need to share information about risk management.  Manufacturers need to take a page from Nike and share information, software and other assets for sustainable business practices. The auto companies should place fuel cell development in the commons.  We need a new intelligent power grid for the production and distribution of energy.  Co-development and collaboration within the industry and sharing is necessary. But industry leaders need to wake up and step up.

COMMENT

Have you noticed the news has changed its approach recently What used to neve be brought up or discussed has changed. Its that time to chagnge our stance on this though.

20 ideas for 2012, part 3

Dec 20, 2011 22:43 UTC

By Don Tapscott

The views expressed are his own.

What will happen in 2012? In the spirit of the aphorism “The future is not something to be predicted, it’s something to be achieved,” let me suggest 20 transformations (which Reuters is publishing in four groups of five; the first can be found here, the second here.) We need to make progress on these issues now to prevent next year from being a complete disaster.

These ideas are based on the research I did with Anthony D. Williams to write our recent book which comes out in January 2012 as a new edition entitled Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet.

All 20 are based on the idea that the industrial age has finally run out of gas and we need to rebuild most of our institutions for a new age of networked intelligence and a new set of principles – collaboration, openness, sharing, interdependence and integrity. These big ideas will be the focus of much of my writing next year.

11. Privacy in the age of social networking

The privacy community is in shambles.  In the past the threat was Big Brother (governments) assembling detailed dossiers about us. Then came Little Brother (corporations) creating detailed customer profiles. Today the problem is the individuals themselves.  Hundreds of millions are revealing detailed data about themselves, their activities, their likes/dislikes, etc. online every day.

This situation has turned traditional privacy laws and regulations upside down. Privacy and data protection laws emphasize the responsibility of organizations to collect, use, retain and disclose personal information in a confidential manner. But collaborative networks in contrast, encourage individuals themselves to directly and voluntarily publish granular data short-circuiting the obligations of organizations to seek informed consent.

To make things worse, some social networking leaders confuse this issue with transparency. But transparency is the obligation of institutions to communicate pertinent information to their stakeholders. Individuals have no such obligation. In fact, to have a secure life and self-determination, individuals have an obligation to protect their personal information. Transparency and privacy should go hand in hand.

I don’t buy the view that “Privacy is dead, get over it.”  Privacy is the foundation of a free society. What new can be done to prevent the destruction of privacy as we know it?

12.  Reversing the tide of climate change through global networks

Climate change seems to have fallen off the radar.  The failure of world leaders to negotiate a meaningful response to the problem of climate change has dented confidence in the ability of international institutions to provide effective leadership on this issue.

Rather than waiting for government action, people and institutions everywhere are beginning to collaborate—for the first time ever—around a single idea: changing the weather.  There are now distributed business laboratories where social entrepreneurs can launch experiments, build communities and attract funding for their ventures.

In social networks peers challenge each other to take actions that reduce emissions and measure their collective progress over time. We are seeing the rise of a “green technology commons” where industries share intellectual property and other assets that could hasten the transition to a low-carbon economy.  Web-based tools turn raw data into usable information, allowing stakeholders such as investors, regulators and ordinary citizens to monitor the progress of communities, nations, and corporations towards carbon neutrality.

What are these new networks that are mobilizing households, workplaces and communities around the world to confront the climate change crisis? What can be learned about achieving global cooperation from this extraordinary movement?

13. New models of democracy for the Digital Age

In many countries civic engagement by young people has been growing for years, but as evidenced by the November 2010 Federal Elections in the United States, around the world voting among young people is declining.  Governments and democracy run the danger of becoming irrelevant.  Many surveys show that young people are not comfortable with the old model where citizens are inert between elections and elected politicians and unelected bureaucrats do all the work.

To achieve social cohesion, good government and shared norms, the new realities demand a second wave of democracy based on a culture of public deliberation and active citizenship.  This is not direct democracy: it is about a new model of citizen engagement and politics appropriate for the 21st century.  There are great new initiatives underway, especially at the city level.

14. Opening up the financial services industry

The global financial crisis destroyed long-term confidence in the financial services industry in the U.S. and other industrialized nations. But restoring confidence will require more than government intervention and new rules. What’s needed is an entirely new modus operandi for the financial services industry. Key players (banks, insurers, investment brokers, rating agencies and regulators) need to embrace transparency and integrity as the basis for credible and effective safeguards.

New models based on openness, transparency and participation are already changing many parts of the financial industry — from venture capital to mutual funds and even lending.

So why not deploy a digital response involving collaboration on a mass scale to properly evaluate and assess the value and risk of new financial instruments? Exposing complex financial instruments to the scrutiny of the thousands of experts who have the knowledge to vet the underlying assumptions could restore trust in banks, kick start venture capital, unfreeze the paralysis of lending markets and lay a foundation for a financial service industry that fosters the growth and prosperity of the world’s economies.

15. New models in health: Towards collaborative healthcare

Countries everywhere are struggling to develop effective yet affordable healthcare systems.  But all these debates assume an old model of health where patients are passive recipients of medical care and play little or no role in deciding their treatments plans. Patients are isolated from one another and rarely communicate or share knowledge. Healthcare occurs primarily when the citizen enters the healthcare system.

For many years, this was the only model possible.  But Web 2.0 puts the informed patient into a new context. It enables a new model of medicine experts call “collaborative healthcare.” This approach would be less expensive, safer and better.  For the first time, people could self-organize, contribute to the sum of medical knowledge, share information, support each other and become active in managing their own health.  Engaged patients manage their own health more effectively, reduce costs and improve medical outcomes. Every baby and citizen should have a web site – half medical record and half social network for health.  How do we get the medical establishment buy into it?  What are the implications for healthcare providers and policy makers?

COMMENT

It’s so devastating to read about the real and present danger in a new light. Understanding the concept of “Shifting Baselines” really touches me and my continued frustration at humanity as a whole. This concept is exactly what has allowed our cultures to move from maximum to minimum use of natural and man made resources over the last several generations. Some day we will all recognize that doing something in the name of progress means reverting our thought processes toward protection vs consumption. I appreciate all the 5 Gyres team is doing this summer!

20 big ideas for 2012, continued

Dec 19, 2011 23:04 UTC

The views expressed are his own.

What will happen in 2012? In the spirit of the aphorism “The future is not something to be predicted, it’s something to be achieved,” let me suggest 20 transformations (which Reuters will publish in four groups of five; the first can be found here). We need to make progress on these issues now to prevent next year from being a complete disaster.

These ideas are based on the research I did with Anthony D. Williams to write our recent book which comes out in January 2012 as a new edition entitled Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet.

All 20 are based on the idea that the industrial age has finally run out of gas and we need to rebuild most of our institutions for a new age of networked intelligence and a new set of principles – collaboration, openness, sharing, interdependence and integrity. These big ideas will be the focus of much of my writing next year.

6. The Arab seasons: Getting beyond wiki revolutions to democratic, secular governments

In Egypt and Tunisia we saw a revolution in how to foment revolutions.  Now we need to reinvent how to build democracies. Enabled by social media, anti-government leadership in these two countries came from the people themselves rather than a traditional vanguard. Tools such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter radically lowered the cost and effort of collaboration and undermined state censorship. Now leaders are beginning to use the same tools to help build functional democracies. “Social networks, Twitter and texting were critical to the revolution,” said Yassine Brahim, Tunisia’s new minister of infrastructure and transport, last year at Davos. “We are going to leverage social media to build a horizontal democracy rather than a vertical democracy.” We must ensure that the wiki revolutions result in just societies, and not be taken over by the old regime or other regressive forces.

7. As the Old Media collapse, improve how We inform ourselves as societies

Traditional media such as newspapers and magazines continue to decline, in turn eroding the traditional ways we inform ourselves.  Meanwhile there is an information explosion being caused by new media:  Between the beginning of history and the year 2003, five exabytes of information were recorded.  Today five exabytes of information are recorded every 24 hours. There are new dangers of information overload, balkanization, and the fragmentation and credibility of online content.  Yet with the explosion of “the third screen” — mobile devices — there are vast new opportunities to inform people in the farthest reaches of the developing world.

There are new emerging models for societies to be informed.  How can we avoid a world where people only receive the information they agree with – isolating us into self-reinforcing echo chambers of content? How do we ensure quality, good judgment, investigative reporting, and balance? New thinking suggests each of us can become a media citizen where we manage out media diet to be appropriately informed. What can business, government and the media industry do to develop media citizenry?

8. Ending the government debt crisis: New models for cheaper, better government

The concept of “Reinventing Government” has been around for two decades.  But its time has come.  The sovereign debt crisis in Europe and the spiraling debt in America and other Western countries call for more than tinkering. Coupled with citizen resistance to increased taxes, there is an emerging crisis where the basic funding for government operations is threatened globally.   There is now a new medium of communications that only changes the way we innovate and create goods and services – it can change the way societies create public value.

Governments can become a stronger part of the social ecosystem that binds individuals, communities, and businesses—not by absorbing new responsibilities or building additional layers of bureaucracy, but through  willingness to open up formerly closed processes and data to broader input and innovation.

Governments can become a platform for the creation of services and for social innovation. It provides resources, sets rules and mediates disputes, but allows citizens, non-profits and the private sector to share in the heavy lifting.  This is leading to a change in the division of labor in society about how public value is created, and holds the promise of solving the debt crisis.

9. New models of regulation: The citizen regulator

The financial meltdown illustrated how the speed, interdependency and complexity of the new realities make traditional centralized rulemaking and enforcement increasingly ineffective. There are too many innovations, products, relationships and activities to effectively oversee and regulate. After years of chronic underfunding many regulatory agencies are ill-equipped to pick up the slack of the past, let alone confront novel challenges for which they have neither the resources nor the expertise.

If the traditional approach is inadequate, what can supplement it? Effective regulation is more likely to stem from efforts that increase transparency and public participation. Rather than simply regulating, governments can drive transparency and civic engagement in industries from financial services to energy – not as a substitute for better regulation but as a complement to traditional command and control systems.

But do individuals and civil society organizations have the capacity to help regulatory bodies develop more effective systems of monitoring and enforcement? Do connected citizen regulators really have the power to change behavior of corporations and other institutions? What needs to change to make this a reality? What are the implications for traditional regulatory approaches?

10. Kick-start job creation through entrepreneurship

The “jobless recovery” is an oxymoron.  There is no recovery unless it is inclusive.  Unemployment levels around the world are brutally high, particularly for young people.  We urgently need to create more jobs, and we know that eighty percent of new jobs come from companies that are less than five years old. The good news: every day it’s increasingly easy to start a business. The internet provides young companies with unprecedented access to the resources and promotional tools once associated only with larger and older corporations.  And start-ups have the advantage of not being saddled with bureaucracy and other legacy costs.

To create jobs governments should adopt fresh policies to encourage entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs also need more than just money – they need encouragement in the form of a supportive environment, access to resources, talent, innovations, and customers.  We need to break the entrepreneurship logjam.

COMMENT

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20 big ideas for 2012

Dec 16, 2011 17:57 UTC

The views expressed are his own.

What will happen in 2012? In the spirit of the aphorism “The future is not something to be predicted, it’s something to be achieved,” let me suggest 20 transformations (which Reuters will publish in four groups of five). We need to make progress on these issues now to prevent next year from being a complete disaster.

These ideas are based on the research I did with Anthony D. Williams to write our recent book which comes out in January 2012 as a new edition entitled Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet.

All 20 are based on the idea that the industrial age has finally run out of gas and we need to rebuild most of our institutions for a new age of networked intelligence and a new set of principles – collaboration, openness, sharing, interdependence and integrity. These big ideas will be the focus of much of my writing next year.

1. Make the transformations required to avoid the 20-year slump

There is growing concern that the global economic crisis is not over, but may be just beginning. How do we avoid a prolonged period of slump and its effects – stagnation, unrest and even calamity? Evidence suggests that this is not a normal business cycle but rather a secular change — that the industrial economy and many of its institutions have finally run out of gas. A fundamental transformation is required — from old models of financial services to media, our energy grid, transportation systems and institutions for global cooperation and problem solving.

At the same time the contours of a new kind of civilization are becoming clear. Society has at its disposal the most powerful platform ever for bringing together the people, skills and knowledge we need to ensure growth, social development and a just and sustainable world. Because of the digital revolution, the old industrial models are being turned on their head and new possibilities abound. From education and science and to new approaches to citizen engagement and democracy, sparkling new initiatives are underway to rebuild the world anew.

We need new models that leaders of business, government and civil society can embrace. Rather than tinkering we need to transform our economy and society.

2. Radical openness

WikiLeaks continues to release classified government, and soon corporate information. Clearly not all government information should be public. And government employees as a rule should not violate their confidentiality agreements. But this forced transparency is just the tip of the iceberg. Increasingly all organizations operate in a hyper-transparent world. Today customers can use the Internet to help evaluate the true worth of products and services. Employees share formerly secret information about corporate strategy, management and challenges. To collaborate effectively, companies share intimate knowledge with one another. And in a world of instant communications, whistleblowers, inquisitive media, and Google, citizens and communities routinely put firms under the microscope.

So if a corporation is going to be naked – and it really has no choice in the matter – it had better be buff.  And when it comes to corrupt governments, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Organizations need to embrace transparency for trust, innovation, better performance and success.

3. Pulling the plug: making communication a right in the Digital Age

Throughout the Arab Spring, rulers attempted to shut off access to the web and digital tools. During the London riots of 2011 government leaders discussed the wisdom of pulling the plug on communications tools and leaders elsewhere including in the United States have openly discussed the Idea of an Internet “Off Switch.” The experience suggests these to be counterproductive: When governments shut down the Net, uninvolved people are affected, angered and become involved. Moreover, when people have their tools of communication taken away, such as Twitter and Facebook, they have no choice but to come into the street and communicate. So this has had the effect of stimulating the mass action in the street. And as the Internet becomes the foundation for wealth creation, education, health care, supply chains, commerce and all other facets of society, shutting it down has the effect of creating a digital general strike and economic paralysis.

Are there cases where it is legitimate and effective to pull the plug? Is communication a right in the digital age? What new models of free speech are required for the digital age?

4. Take action to prevent a worldwide youth explosion

Today’s youth were told that if they graduated, worked hard, and stayed out of trouble, they would have a prosperous and fulfilling life. But that’s not happening. Around the world, youth unemployment is far higher than the national average. Young people are disillusioned, and their high unemployment raises the specter of a new youth radicalization. In the ‘60s, youth radicalization was based on causes such as opposing the Vietnam war. Today’s radicalization is deeply rooted in personal broken hopes, mistreatment, and injustice. Moreover, today’s frustrated youth have at their fingertips the most powerful tool ever for finding out what’s going on, informing others and organizing collective responses. How can we engage youth in finding new solutions and in doing so avoid a generational conflict that could make the 1960s look tame?

5. Shift to new models of global problem-solving

The inability of the G8 and G20 to address the global economic crisis; the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization; and the Copenhagen and Cancun conferences on climate change show that formal international systems for cooperation are failing in achieving world goals of economic growth, climate protection, poverty eradication, conflict avoidance, human security and behavior based on shared values. Conversely many of the positive developments happening around the world, such as the struggles for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, are not being made because of our global systems for cooperation but rather through new networks of citizens, civil society organizations and other stakeholders uniting around a common cause.

It was a network of governments, private companies, civil society organizations, and individual citizens – the new four pillars of society – that organized to solve the crisis in Haiti. Rather than building more massive global bureaucracies it makes sense to embrace more agile, networked structures enabled by global networks for new kinds of collaboration.

COMMENT

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The FTC saves Facebook…from itself

Dec 13, 2011 17:42 UTC

By Don Tapscott

The views expressed are his own.

No doubt executives at Facebook are licking their wounds about the tough sanctions imposed on the company by the Federal Trade Commission last month. The social media juggernaut must now re-architect its systems and policies to protect privacy.  It’s likely the bankers preparing Facebook’s imminent IPO are feeling the pain, too.

But the FTC many have unwittingly saved the company. Privacy was Facebook’s Achilles heel and over the years they have continually got it wrong. Now the FTC is forcing them to get it right. The lessons learned by Facebook apply to all companies, not just social media web sites.

The FTC said that Facebook “deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public.”  Facebook didn’t warn users that this would be happening.  The company also claimed that detailed user information would not be shared with advertisers, when they were doing exactly that. And when users left the service, Facebook said their information and photos would be removed when actually this information was still available.

As a pioneering social media company, Facebook is continually venturing into uncharted waters. Before Facebook arrived, few would have predicted that hundreds of millions of people would voluntarily log on to the Internet and record detailed almost minute-by-minute data about themselves, their activities, their likes and dislikes, and so on. The degree of detail that Facebook knows about its users is unprecedented.

Why has Facebook continually botched the privacy issue? Most think that this treasure chest of information has motivated Facebook executives to collect and monetize every scrap of data they can, even if that means undermining the privacy of its members. But there may be a deeper cultural reason.  In the book The Facebook Effect, David Kirkpatrick explains that some Facebook executives think transparency is not just an opportunity for companies and other institutions to disclose pertinent information about themselves (the very definition of transparency). They believe it’s an opportunity for individuals to do so as well.

The Facebook founders believe that “more visibility makes us better people,” according to Kirkpatrick. Some claim, for example, that because of Facebook, young people today have a harder time cheating on their boyfriends or girlfriends. They also say that more transparency should make for a more tolerant society in which people eventually accept that everybody sometimes does bad or embarrassing things.”

Some at Facebook refer to this as Radical Transparency — a term initially used to talk about institutions, and now being adapted to individuals. “Our mission since Day 1 has been to make society more open” says Dave Morin, one of Mark Zuckerberg’s inner circle. In other words, everyone should have just one identity, whether at their workplace or in their personal life.

If true, this is naïve, misguided and dangerous. Transparency applies to organizations, not people. Organizations are increasingly obliged to communicate pertinent information to their customers, shareholders, business partners and so on. This is not the case for individuals. Indeed, individual privacy is the foundation of a free society and individuals have an obligation to themselves to safeguard their personal information. And institutions should be transparent about what they do with our personal information.

“Facebook is obligated to keep the promises about privacy that it makes to its hundreds of millions of users,” said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz. “Facebook’s innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy.”

Given the company’s privacy-hostile DNA, it was only a matter of time before users started catching on and abandoning the company in droves. Thus, the FTC’s sanctions may have unwittingly helped the company survive. According to the proposed FTC settlement, Facebook is barred from making misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers’ personal information. It is required to obtain consumers’ affirmative consent before enacting changes that override their privacy preferences, and required to prevent anyone from accessing a user’s material no more than 30 days after the user has deleted his or her account.

In addition, the company is required to establish and maintain a comprehensive privacy program designed to address privacy risks associated with the development and management of new and existing products and services, and Facebook is required, within 180 days, and every two years after that for the next 20 years, to obtain independent, third-party audits certifying that it has a privacy program in place that meets or exceeds the requirements of the FTC order, and to ensure that the privacy of consumers’ information is protected.

On his blog, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote that the FTC settlement “means we’re making a clear and formal long-term commitment to do the things we’ve always tried to do and planned to keep doing — giving you tools to control who can see your information and then making sure only those people you intend can see it.”

Safeguarding privacy should be a fundamental element of all social media, not something tacked on as an afterthought.  As Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian says: “It’s all about being proactive and embedding the necessary protections into the design of your systems.  By doing so, you can prevent the privacy harm from arising, thereby avoiding the costs associated with data breaches.”

Cavoukian advocates Privacy by Design, a concept that has been embraced by privacy advocates around the world. Privacy by Design is about proactively embedding privacy into the design of technology and business practices, ideally as the default setting. It also emphasizes data minimization. A company should not collect, use or retain more personally identifiable data than it actually needs. This practice lowers the risk the risk of encountering data breaches, identity theft, and so on.

The lesson here is that companies need to protect the privacy of their customers and everyone else by designing it into the core of their business modus operandi.  Not everyone can count on the FTC to be their BFF.

PHOTO: Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks to reporters at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts November 7, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

COMMENT

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