Friday, January 20, 2006

Trust Google or trust AttentionTrust?

The blog response to the news that Google has refused to give up search records to the US government, but other search engines rolled over has missed one of the more interesting facets to the discussion: the implications for the nascent attention industry. What if this was three to four years down the track and /Root Vaults was in full operation? Instead of hitting up all the search engines, all the government would need to do would be to subpoena AttentionTrust. In the slightly altered words of some old codger with a beard: one database to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them.

Lest some think I'm completely against the attention-seeking lads, I could see this as being a good thing if it led to a test case which AT won. I wouldn't trust the US courts to do the right thing, however, and I'd rather have Googilla fight that battle with their endless cash supplies than rely on the thinly-stretched resources of a struggling startup.

Governments the world over have demonstrated their ability to identify vulnerable chokepoints for Internet data, which is why they have ISPs firmly under their legal thumbs. It would be a very dangerous thing in privacy terms to centralise attention data.


Anonymous seth goldstein said...

as always, stimulating questions mr tinfinger. (we will miss you tomw at vaultstock!). quick points you may have missed:

1) attentiontrust does not store any data. full stop. its recorders route data to services that people tell it to. attentiontrust is nothing but 4 basic principles and some open source public attention recording routers.

2) /ROOT does store this data in its /Vaults on behalf of users. We are developing a system that will enable each user to maintain his own unique data schema (ie their own virtual root server as it were). This has implications for security and identity management, that will protect against any individual entity (including /ROOT iteself) from accessing a user's data by fiat.

Imho, each human being deserves their own algorithm and their own api, as opposed to being forced into being a cog in somebody elses.

2:51 pm, January 20, 2006  
Anonymous Ed Batista said...

Hi Paul,

I'll second what Seth said. AttentionTrust is not a data repository. We work to empower users to make more effective use of their attention data (by distributing the Attention Recorder and encouraging the development of other attention services similar to Root), and to educate users about the existence of attention data and potential attention-based applications.

So the feds could subpoena AttentionTrust all they want--we have no data to give them. (Technically, the demo we set up at for last fall's Web 2.0 conference is still up and running, but that's a pretty limited data set that's entirely aggregated, so I don't think any prosecutors are itching to get their hands on it.)

You're right that Root and their fellow fledgling attention services, unlike AttentionTrust, are in the business of gathering and storing users' data, and the feds might eventually want to talk to them. But to your point that Google and their army of attorneys are better prepared to fight off unwanted government intrusion, I think it's fair to expect that by the time Root or someone else in that space gets big enough to actually hit the feds' radar screen, they'll be fully lawyered up, too.

Great food for thought, though, and everyone in the attention space needs to be considering these issues carefully. Looking forward to hearing more.


3:18 pm, January 21, 2006  
Blogger Paul Montgomery said...

Seth: ISPs weren't in the business of storing the data the government was after either, but legislation forced them into providing taps. They're a conduit, which is exactly what AT is, which is why the government would see you as the weakest link to pressure you to give them the ability to tap your "routers".

I'm glad you're thinking about these issues. If you're seriously trying to actually add to users' privacy as Ed says, which I have no reason to doubt, I hope you don't end up being the next

9:07 pm, January 21, 2006  

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