More than a dozen years ago, Scott McNealy, then CEO of Sun, unleashed one of his most infamous quotes on an unsuspecting group of analysts and reporters: "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it."
And that's what people did. They got over it. Not only does the vast majority of Internet users have little in the way of privacy, but in the age of oversharing, few seem to value it at all.
I am beginning to wonder, though, whether a saturation point will be reached at which people cry, "Enough!" -- a Rubicon that, once crossed, will make people sick to see how much of their personal information is being mined and exploited. If that happens in any serious way, new consumer protections will be demanded -- which, if not granted, might cause millions to opt for the Internet equivalent of going off the grid. So long, Facebook and Twitter.
Think that's out of the question? Well, for starters, consider the discomfort a random group of people experienced when they were informed that social networking sites can track Web surfing habits, not to mention the latest efforts of Mark Zuckerberg to enable Facebook users to eavesdrop on each other -- or his attempt to emulate Foursquare with Facebook Places.
Ironically, what got me thinking about a privacy backlash was a social networking startup called WayIn, announced earlier this month, that boasts none other than Scott McNealy as its chairman of the board. It's a platform where users "weigh in" by answering quick survey questions generated by other users or by sponsors. WayIn's sweet spot is collecting data while users watch TV and offer opinions in real time -- sports, political debates, commercials, and so on -- and selling it to marketers.
If WayIn takes off, McNealy says sponsors will place high value on the gobs of information users provide. Maybe so. McNealy told me the information delivered to sponsors would be in aggregate, though presumably WayIn would retain accrued responses and more by user account.