I recently commented on whether Web 2.0 had ‘jumped the shark’ in terms of strange applications, and also remarked on whether the biggest threat to online privacy was ourselves. However, I don’t think I was prepared for Blippy – a web site that allows you to share details of products and services that you’ve bought via different routes– Amazon, iTunes, Mastercard, Visa, etc. Now this I find very weird and, dare I say it, slightly compelling viewing. The system was on an invite only basis until late last year, but now seems to be open to all comers.
It’s sort of like the online version of being in the check out at the local Morrisons Supermarket and peering in to the basket of the person next in the queue. I took a look on the site and randomly selected a user. From 5 minutes looking at their recent transactions I was able to work out that they either lived in San Francisco and had recently traveled to New York (or vice versa), that they had a baby / toddler, that they’d done some DiY recently and various other aspects of their lives based on the purchasing records that they were willing to share.
Now, there’s nothing here that falls in to the ‘blackmail’ category, and I’m quite sure that people using Blippy would keep their ‘special’ purchases off of the system, but to be honest I do find it a rather strange thing for someone to want to do. Maybe I’m just old. It wasn’t long ago that people were protesting about the use of RFID tags in goods to track our shopping behaviour in shopping malls; now we seem to be falling over ourselves to give the information away for free, along with the amounts spent!
The Blippy owners said last December that they weren’t yet sure how to monetise the project. Well, I think they were being rather disingenuous because it appears that Blippy have joined forces with the people who bought you the (now scrubbed) Facebook Beacon project. And then there’s the very direct link between the data that Blippy collects and what has been called the ‘database of intentions’ – data that allows the prediction of buying activity based on past behaviours. You have a large collection of data on buying habits; you have an individual with a recent history of purchases; it’s a relatively trivial software process to take the individual’s list and use the collection of data to predict what other items might be of interest. You can then contact businesses in those market sectors with what is at least a warm prospect for a sale.
Blippy is again an interesting example of how people are willing to put lots of information in to this ‘database of intentions’. Their lack of concern about their own privacy impacts upon us all by making it easier to predict our behaviour even if we only ‘leak’ small amounts of data.