The fallacy of the Better mousetrap: Privacy advocates want to have their cake and eat it too

The fallacy of the better moustrap.jpg

I saw a curiously mis-titled article from Julie Meyer called ‘Why the IT sector is vital for small firms’

The article is actually about privacy, digital footprint etc and it says:

If they (Google) don’t cut the individual into receiving a piece of the value of their personal information, as it is used in search and purchase transactions, someone will, and that new party will rise to dominance.

Recently, there have been many such discussions mainly targeting Google, Facebook and other players ..

I have a differing view on this .. Let me explain ..

Suppose you are walking down the street. A stranger takes a picture (not YOUR picture – but a picture of the surroundings). While you are not the focus of the picture, you are ‘in it’ because you were walking.

Now, she enters the picture in a competition. She wins a 1000$.


But, would you ask for your share?

Note that the picture is not about you, you just happen to be in it.

In the words of the privacy advocates, your ‘personal data’ in this case, image, has been used by someone else for (shock, horror!) commercial gain!

They proclaim: ‘Give us our share! You did not ask our permission. WE own the data. And YOU profit from it’!

This is of course silly .. But exactly the same case is being made here

There is also another aspect to this.

People WANT to contribute to the web because they want to be found. Maybe someone sees your picture in the photo and if you are attractive enough, makes you a modeling offer!

In other words, people who contribute content are discoverable and there are benefits to the person (often commercial) to being discovered.

But what if you DON’T want to be found?

Do what Rupert Murdoch does .. Password protect your content

If it works for Rupert, it will work for others?

But will it work for Rupert(let alone for you!) (PS: Note that According to his biographer Michael Wolff, Murdoch has not used the internet, let alone Google (he only recently discovered email)

I think not ..

Here is why ..

There is a saying from Ralph Waldo Emerson that: If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door ..

But do you really believe that in the Internet world, others will beat a path to your door?

Much as I like the work of the Sage of Concord/Ralph Waldo Emerson , this wisdom does not apply to the Internet age ..

Many people who may try to assign a value to their personal information may subscribe to this fallacious view i.e. somehow that their content is valuable and that if only it were ‘gated’ we could monetize that value (directly or indirectly)

In my view, the options are password protect (which is a valid choice) OR treat it like a random photographer in a tourist destination. Hope that someone sees you in that picture and makes you a modeling offer :)

But you can’t have it both ways! i.e. publish your content/data and then ask for a share of profits!

Image source:


  1. Tony Fish says:

    Ajit – as always provocative. Maybe a third view is that there is not value in your photo – if your photo is considered raw data. However, if the photo is analysed and someone see where you are and decides to sell you something based on where you are – you now have value.
    Is the value in you being in the photo – probably not
    Is the value in the sales pitch – probably not
    Is the value knowing that you where there at some point and therefore may have a propensity to be interested in the are – maybe
    Value however for the individual is subjective and the old view was this linear one way through the model without the feedback and real time web. Introduce this to the value equation of your data and you have a different metric. This is where the analysis provides information on who influence you and who you influence – this does have value.
    But somehow as a back shop, it is probably he who collects, stores and delivers the analysis has access to delivering value from your data, but your data is in silos all over the place

  2. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Thanks Tony! Ok to extend my photo analogy further .. Instead of a competition, suppose there were many such pictures by different people. They were created into a collage of pictures showing (say) red roses. Then they post that picture online. And place advertisements against that. Who should get the revenue from the ads? the people who created pictures of individual red roses or the person who created the collage of red roses? Here, the person who analysed the images has created value. Same principles apply to the analysis angle i.e. when we say *** if your photo is considered raw data. However, if the photo is analysed and someone see where you are and decides to sell you something based on where you are – you now have value. *** – you could argue that the value is actually attributed to the person creating the collage (and not the individual image of the rose). It is a different viewpoint .. :) Just thought I should put it across! many thanks kind rgds Ajit