We now live in what used to be called the "information age."
We carry in our pockets, brief cases and hold on our desks machines that can conjure up information from thousands of Libraries of Congresses in an instant.
But this "information age" has become an age of ignorance. We can know every detail about any subject on Earth, but know nothing about basic facts like who has access to our own personal data.
The technology industry has made liars out of us. Every new app -- or update to apps -- every new service we try and every new device we buy involves us saying that we've read and understand the Terms of Service (ToS) or End User Licensing Agreement (EULA).
But we haven’t. And we don’t.
(I conducted a poll on my Google+ page, and at post time, 451 responded that they click "Yes" or "Agree" to such contracts when they either don't read or understand them. Only 14 said they only agree if they have both read and understood the terms.)
There are all kinds of problems with this inconvenient truth, but the biggest is that users don't know what they agreed to.
Did you agree to let a company harvest your personal data and sell it to anyone with the cash to buy it? Did you agree to let them track your location? Contact your loved ones? Use your images and words in advertisements?
Buried in the blather are details about how the company intends to monitor, collect and store your personal information, as well as sell and share it. It's easy to blame the user. But the truth is that most of these contracts are not designed for end-user understanding, but for corporate ass-saving should the company's activities later be challenged in court or Congressional hearing.
I had tried more than a dozen services several months ago, and didn't recall which I had settled on. (I later realized that Twitter helpfully labels the source for third-party app posted content in each tweet’s data.)
Come to think of it, I connected various services together over the past few years, including Linkedin, Bebo, Plaxo, Brightkite, Friendfeed, Jaiku and even MySpace. What did I connect? Am I still sharing personal information on these services through these connections. Do these services even still exist?
I discovered recently that many people have this problem. Active users tend to try things. We create these connections. But when we're distracted by the newest shiny object, we wander away and tend to leave behind a trail of information linkages that continue to “share” things long after we’ve forgotten about them.
The wireless carrier that enables you to watch dumb cat videos on your smart phone knows where you are at all times.
Your phone collects location data constantly. It triangulates cell towers, checks its location via GPS, and uses other methods to know where the phone is -- where you are -- on the surface of the planet.
Who has access to data about your location? The carrier definitely does. But does the handset maker? The app makers? The government? Your boss? Does the carrier sell specific or aggregated location data to other companies?
If you know the answer to these questions, congratula-tions: You are the 1%. The vast majority of users don't have any idea.
The first three decades of the personal computing revolution involved, in one form or another, significant knowledge about what was going on inside the box.