Pinchgate: The Info Tracking Debate

spy2I’m a stickler for privacy, so the recent furor over Pinch Media‘s analytics is really interesting to me. The debate (in a nutshell) is whether information gathered by companies like Pinch Media through iPhone applications, for the purpose of developer marketing, is spyware. I thought I’d take a second to toss in my own 2 cents on this issue.

So, for my take on the subject, read on after the jump!

As a little background, I’m one of those psychos who insists on approving every cookie in my browser manually. I really like control over my personal info. It’s not that I’m that worried about giving away my personal info, I do it all the time. My thing is that I want to very specifically choose who I give that information to.

That’s why I’m not a big fan of data collection without explicit notification. When I install something that is going to collect my personal data, including use patterns, location, hardware specs, or anything else, I want the software to ask me:

“Excuse me, Mr. Tassin. Would it be acceptable if we collected your personal information?”

When a software company, website, etc. that I like and trusts asks me this, I always say “Yes.” I WANT them to be successful, and if my personal data will help I’m happy to provide it. On the other hand, if a piece of software I know very little about, a website I’m not likely to visit again, or another unknown entity wants this information, I always say “No.”

For me, the debate isn’t about whether collecting information is a good idea, whether the parties involved will use it wisely, or even what information is collected. For me, the debate is all about “Did You Ask Me First?”

If the answer is “Yes,” then I have no problem with it. Keep up the good work!

If the answer is “No,” then we have a problem since at that point you really ARE spying on me, no matter how ethically you use the data you’ve collected.

NOTE: Ilium Software does not automatically collect any user data at this time. We encourage software registration and ask some optional questions, but we use no automated collection tools. We appreciate the value of automated data collection and may consider doing so in the future, but as Product Manager I would only do so in combination with a clear opt-in policy.

5 thoughts on “Pinchgate: The Info Tracking Debate

  1. Tim

    to further extend the debate, i feel there’s a difference between collecting user data and collecting usage stats. For example, my wife runs a web business that almost exclusively operates by email. there’s no sign up pages and anyone can email through an order or enquiry via their regular mail client (aka explicitly handing over their details). however she also runs a google analytics script on her site to track page views, return visits, etc (aka implicit “spying”). the google analytics doesn’t have any personally identifiable info, so where does that sort of data retention stand go the privacy debate?

  2. Marc

    @Tim: I guess the question there, Tim, is how “anonymous” is anonymous data? Often, the answer is “not very.”

    On a related note, it’s interesting – culturally, the web has taken on the role of “public spaces.” In other words, I can expect that my activities may get monitored when I’m walking around in a public space, like a store or a park. For most users, the web is a similar environment – we expect that as we “pass the gate” the web site will track us as a “unique hit”, and once we’re in it will track what “rooms” we visit, which products we buy, and where we linger. It might even record some identifying quality about us (IP).

    What we do in our own homes however, or in this case on our computers outside the internet, us considered private. Having someone automatically track usage without asking, or worse pulling other data about us unrelated to the app itself, feels much like a manufacturer installing a chip in our refrigerator to track the food we eat, how often we open it, how often we fill it, and sending all of that information back to an “eye in the sky.”

  3. Pingback: Public vs. Private in the Virtual World « Ilium Software Blog

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