And the change will begin with your face.
The World’s Your Screen
“The inevitability of facial recognition is very clear,” says Brian Mullins, founder and CEO of Daqri, a leading augmented reality developer who envisions the legions of humans hunched over screens to one day gaze upon an entire “4D” environment, consuming digital content. He wants to shift the taxonomy of how we encounter the digital world to increase a new kind of visual literacy, one that would supplant the current model of online information search. While you currently need to know a word or phrase before typing it in a search engine, when 4D becomes ubiquitous you’ll simply look at an object to discover all its associated information.
Going to a computer screen in the future to get information will seem quaint
Going to a computer screen in the future to get information will seem quaint.”
The conduit will be a device like Google Glass or augmented contact lenses, with which a person can view and filter his world in the blink of an eye. “What we’re talking about,” says Mullins, “when we get to first-person, head-mounted displays is that you’re turning your world into your screen.”
Meet View vs. Street View
Image: Google Street View
Google understands this shift in search taxonomy. It has literally been driving a new paradigm for search with Street View, a program whereby cars enabled with video cameras map the planet so people can experience new locations without leaving home.
Google also recently filed a patent for Pay-Per-Gaze, a technology that would allow advertisers to see when a person utilizing a wearable device like Google Glass looked at their branding or visual messaging. In this scenario, the world moves from being your private screen to a shared one; your life becomes an opportunity for product placement. The model will extend to your feelings as well. Google’s patent features a Pay-Per-Emotion feature, by which it will be able to charge for analytical data based on people’s physiological response to an advertisement. Pupil dilation as a proxy for emotion means that Glass or a similar device can transmit our inner lives to the outside world, without us having to be directly involved in the transaction.
And to be clear, these are transactions. Like the cars used to carry cameras for Street View, people will become the conduits to enable Google’s continued mapping and monetization of the world. Street View will become Meet View, as facial recognition technology transforms faces into the visual markers for future search.
The Right to Publicity vs. the Preference of Privacy
If what we see and how we feel is monetized by technology companies, do we have a right to payment if we use these services? How about the people being looked at, whether or not they use these services? When a person’s face or identity is used by someone else for commercial purposes, it’s critical to distinguish between her preference of privacy and her right to publicity.
Here’s the thing about privacy: It’s tedious. Rather than dwell on Google being accused of illegal wiretapping with Street View, or whether Facebook got explicit consent from users before a recent update in privacy practices, we need to evolve the conversation around the monetization of our data in the digital realm toward identity.
when does the “freemium” model of exchange for services become untenable in an augmented economy?
when does the “freemium” model of exchange for services become untenable in an augmented economy? At what point can anyone, whatever services he uses, have a right to revenue based off of his identity?
“Everybody has the potential to have commercial value,” says Brian Wassom, an expert on augmented reality law, a partner at international business law firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP and blog author. Wassom writes often on a legal term known as the right of publicity, which involves the right of an individual to control the commercial exploitation of his or her personal identity.
Fraley versus Facebook, Inc., provides a precedent for this question of monetizing identity. Filing a class action lawsuit against Facebook, users alleged the network misappropriated their names and likenesses in regard to Sponsored Stories. The settlement indicated 125 million Facebook users identified in the class action would be notified so they could file to potentially receive $10 apiece. While the amount may be small, the larger precedent established could reverse the Internet economy. It cements the idea that Facebook and other technology companies are responsible to compensate users for commercially tenable aspects of their identity over and above “free” use of their services.
“The value of a social recommendation is so much stronger than the recommendation from someone you don’t know,” says Wassom. “The Fraley case suggests that our identities have commercial value to our friends, if to nobody else. If this precedent holds, it opens the flood gates for people to monetize and commercialize their likeness in all sorts of ways.”
The Time for Transparency
In the wake of this precedent, the biggest opportunity for Google, Facebook or any company utilizing personal data is transparency. If it’s inevitable that we’ll share in the money generated by our identities and actions, the savviest organizations are the ones who will clarify this new economy for users. Rather than shift privacy policies to cater to advertisers’ needs, it’s time to go straight to the people generating the data that drives the digital economy.
“We’ve noticed that consumers are developing increasingly sophisticated understanding of how data is used for marketing,” says Marc Guldimann, founder and CEO of Enliken, a company that’s just released Transparency as a Service (Taas), which makes it easier for marketers to be more responsible with consumer data without changing the way they gather or use it. Guldimann points out that in an atmosphere where consumers are beginning to realize the value of their data and identity, “this leads to more favorable opinions of brands who treat their data with respect, and an openness to sharing more information with those brands.”
People also want to directly monetize their data, a practice which companies like Datacoup, a personal data exchange platform where consumers can aggregate, visualize and sell their own personal data, will provide. CEO and cofounder Matt Hogan responds to people who ask him why they’d want to sell their data: “I tell them your data is being sold left and right on five different devices, and on 30 different social platforms. Somebody else is making money off your data, and it should be you — it’s your asset.”
an individual should at least be in control of the sale surrounding her data.
an individual should at least be in control of the sale surrounding her data. When the process is transparent, this benefits everyone involved. Hogan says when people sell their data directly to brands in an open environment, they’re willing to be highly granular with what they share. The specifics of their lives don’t need to be surmised or categorized through evolved analytics — just ask them. “These are valuable insights from consumers we shop to potential purchasers,” says Hogan. His message to brands is: “We’ve got people who want to sell their data to you.”
“The entire advertising industry has been hugely corrupted by personalization and surveillance,” says Doc Searls, author of The Intention Economy — When Customers Take Charge and founder of Project VRM (Vendor Relationship Management). Searls noted in our interview:
Advertising used to be about putting a message in front of a lot of people, but was aimed at a population versus individuals. Now it’s personalized, and it’s weird and on the whole people don’t like it. There are moral and economic costs to being watched at all times.
Searls also believes the current Internet economy is built largely on contracts of adhesion, referring to a legally binding agreement where one side has all the bargaining power, thus, an advantage over the other. This “take it or leave it” bias toward agreements is how we’ve been trained to accept most of the services we use today. While these aren’t illegal, they also aren’t transparent. And these types of relationships don’t provide a realistic model for an environment where everyone has the right to monetize his identity because of his right to publicity.
The Intention Economy provides a new model for the future: “It grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made — you don’t need advertising to make them.”
If Vendor Relationship Management takes hold, it means buyers will notify the market when they want to make a purchase. And like the logic of Datacoup, when these processes are transparent, buyers/people will be happy to find the sellers/companies offering value, in a relationship built on trust versus adhesion.
The Face of the Future
It’s time to move on. It’s time to rip the veil from the discussions of privacy, and focus on identity and monetization. It’s time to embrace the fact that however people feel about privacy, they have a right to publicity that can’t be ignored.
If you don’t think this is the case, if you think it’s too hard to reverse an economy based on adhesion, just remember that augmented reality will soon be our portal to view the world. When I wear my device of choice in the future and turn it towards you, I just have one question:
When I look at your face, what will I see?
Mashable composite. Images: iStockphoto, kemie.
BONUS: Google Glass: Don’t Be A Glasshole