Chris Berry wrote an interesting post on his Eyes on Analytics blog entitles “On the Exxon Valez of Privacy”. I recommend you read it. It is about the potential damage that can be done by a web analyst if they are not careful with data and privacy.
I had a few thoughts.
I, as an analyst supposedly can’t track you as an individual. The truth is I can, and I can do a lot more. For instance I have a theory (supported by cold hard data) that most people only utilize a few passwords. Maybe one set for work and one for their personal lives. Same goes for user names. I have a user name I use all the time, and if you know what it is you can easily find other sites I have been to and commented, or posted, or become a member.
Now if you know that user name, and you happen to webmaster one of the sites I use, simply write some script that captures the wrong passwords. Chances are, I have either misspelled it, or entered the wrong one. The wrong one for this site might be the right one for one of the other sites I visit. Do that enough and now you can hack into almost everywhere I go. Now you can collect all the personal data you want!
It is easy to find out about a person, I can ask you neighbors, find you on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace. but as an analyst I don’t care about “persons” I want “people.” I believe it was Stalin who said, “Kill one person it’s murder, kill a million and it’s a statistic.” I hate to say it but I deal with stats, not persons.
While the BI/WA barrier may be getting thinner I think it comes down to due diligence and an expectation of privacy. You may think “I only posted it on my Facebook”. Ya okay, but your friend liked that photo of you passed out with marker on your face so much they re-posted it. Now it is in the open.
If you post things on the internet, you have no expectation of privacy.
Chris is talking more about personal data collected by WA’s and used by Business Intelligence. But I think this falls into the same category. If you don’t want Amazon to know you read “Horny House Wives” magazine, then don’t login and surf to it. With a little care and forethought you can protect youself without the need for legislation. Of course this is Canada, and heaven knows how much we like to make laws.