Microsoft should follow Apple's lead and protect personal info

As more and more websites and mobile apps strip-mine our personal data, Apple is aiding users. Google may not help, but Microsoft could

An ugly consequence of the federated tools we all use is that they often siphon much more information about us than we realize or would want. Case in point: A colleague at another publication signed up for the Beepmo business-networking service only to find it was spamming his Twitter followers with "who cares?" status info. (Beepmo says it will fix this "mistake.") Social media companies like Foursquare have been doing that kind of Twitterspamming forever. Apple and Google had to pull apps from their app stores that raided users' address books to spam all their contacts. Facebook and Google mine anything you post or store on their services for ads and who knows what else -- they're not telling.

It's very convenient to, say, link your cloud storage account to a bunch of apps for easy file sharing, to use a common ID such as OpenID or Facebook login across multiple sites, or use a service like Google Voice to filter and selectively forward phone calls based on knowing who's in your contacts list. Such service federation is a great convenience and efficiency creator. Unfortunately, the convenience is often the inducement to strip-mine your personal data.

[ Read Galen Gruman's manifesto on the next consumerization revolution: your personal privacy. | Understand how to both manage and benefit from the consumerization of IT with InfoWorld's "Consumerization Digital Spotlight" PDF special report. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Consumerization of IT newsletter today. ]

I've argued that we all should be paid for our personal data's value when it is used. If we're the source of the value, we should get a cut. I'd love to see a virtual currency like privacy dollars (P$) established to normalize the rates, to keep the values equitable. Until then, we have to be on our toes.

There's no silver bullet to ensuring that personal, private information goes only to the companies you allow and is then used for only purposes you explicitly agree to and can revoke at any time. That is not what any of these providers want; they covet unfettered access to and use of your data for however they can make money (ads are the least of it). So they won't make it easy. And their useful services -- electronic and mobile payments, travel reservations, media repositories, health and other record-keeping tasks, online storage, communications services, and social everything -- will convince many people to turn a blind eye to the real price they're paying for that convenience.

There are others that have a vested interest in keeping your private data under your control. Apple is the most advanced in this area. iOS already requires any app that tracks your location to get your permission, including a setting that lets you revoke that permission for any service at any time. OS X Lion does the same. Apple is expanding that privacy control to your contacts list, Twitter account, and Facebook account in iOS 6 (due this fall) and OS X Mountain Lion (due this month).

Thank goodness, if you're an Apple user. After all, 18 percent of iOS apps already mine your contacts, according to Internet security firm Bitdefender -- and 41 percent track your location. Many do so for legitimate purposes, some for illegitimate purposes, and most for a mixture of justifiable and exploitative reasons. At least in Apple's world, the OS can give you control over who gets that information, if not what they do with it once they get it.

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