Archive for July 21st, 2008

Framework for discussing “data”

July 21st, 2008

Here’s my starting framework for the data discussions.

  • Outline the different reasons data is important/ different ways in which understanding data is important to building the type of Internet we want to live with.
  • Develop some shared, reasonably specific terms about the kinds of data that related to people.
  • Develop some shared, reasonably specific terms about other kinds of data, in particular the types of aggregated data that tell us  how people are actually using the Internet.
  • Identify a range of overall approaches consumers might take, or want to take, regarding data.   I’m thinking this is at a very high, general level, such as the approaches of not caring, to a considered trade of data for services, to absolute control of all data.
  • Identify approaches Mozilla  could take to data, at a very high level.   Everything from avoiding the collection of any data to making the trade-off between convenience and data clearer to consumers, to providing tools to help consumers with these trade-offs.    Each and every approach Mozilla might take must be one that is based on our stated principles of safely, control and benefit for the individual human being, and on promoting the Internet as an open platform.    There’s a range of possibilities there and I imagine we’ll have some lively discussions.  This should not obscure the fact that there is an entire set of activities that we will not consider.
  • Identify what Mozilla might/ should do with our products, our websites and the product related services.  Some of this discussion is underway already of course, with the anti-phisihing, anti-malware services we offer in Firefox and the discussion of website analytics that occurred via blog and discussion groups earlier this year.   Setting these within a general framework will be very helpful.

The last couple of topics are discussions where our values and goals are critical.  These are areas where Mozilla actions — if any — regarding data will be distinctly Mozilla.   In other words, actions based on our mission, and designed to bring the principles of user safety and control to life, and to promote the I health of the Internet as an open platform.  I suspect the temptation to jump to this last couple of topics right away will be high.   And we’ll probably jump backward and forward a  few times.

It’s important to have the earlier discussions, and to do so with a focus on developing shaved concepts and vocabulary.     Let’s develop a shared understanding of the kinds of data that exist, and then we can talk more intelligently about whether it “should* exist or if and how it should be regulated or controlled.  Similarly, let’s develop a shared understanding of the high level approaches consumers could take with data before we discuss what approach each of us thinks they *should* take with data.

After we have enough shared vocabulary we can talk more effectively what Mozilla can and should do regarding data to manifest the principles of openness, innovation, and user safety and control in our activities.

Thinking About Data

July 21st, 2008

Our online lives are generating increasing data about us as individuals and about how groups of people are using the Internet. At the dawn of the World Wide Web 15 years ago people “surfed” to websites and viewed information. Today Internet life is more participatory and people create more information. In addition, a range of tools have been developed for tracking and generating data about people and our activities. The existence and treatment of this data is important to our online security and privacy. The treatment of this data also affects the public ability to understand how people use the Internet.

I believe Mozilla must think, talk, and respond to this new level of data somehow. I recognize that any discussion of what Mozilla should do regarding data may be perceived as Mozilla wanting to use data to make money, or otherwise changing our nature. This is not the case. Our goal in thinking or doing anything regarding data will be to improve the safety and control of individual people, and to improve the overall health of the Internet.

I’ll say this in many different ways, but I expect some will remain suspicious. The good news is that people are sensitive to this topic precisely because they recognize that the treatment of data is important. I’m hopeful that people will give us the benefit of the doubt as we have these discussions. And if that’s not possible, at least keep an open mind.

Because the topic of data is so complex, I’ve put together an outline of the different facets of this conversation that are important to develop a shared understanding of the landscape. From there we can integrate this understanding with the Mozilla mission and the principles of the Mozilla Manifesto. I’ll post that framework in a separate post.

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