Category Archives: reputation

Consumer Control in a Data-Driven World

The amount of data collected on you increases every year. And recently, the slope of the curve is getting steeper as there is much more data to collect, including your demographics, digital footprint, purchase history, where you are driving, how you are traveling, your network of friends, and even some of the most intimate details of your personal life.

At the same time, we’re not living in a Brave New World or 1984-type society where there is only one collector of this data, akin to the all-knowing Stasi in East Germany. It is actually much scarier than that. The number of actors collecting this data is growing astronomically. Today there are tens of thousands of actors collecting information about you and these include corporations, government agencies, non-profits, and others.

Of course there are a lot of apparent and unapparent benefits to having all this data collected. We can obtain readily accessible credit – the underpinning of why the U.S. economy is so strong – due to the fact that our debt payment data is easily accessible. Micro-targeting to your likes and interest is much better than receiving irrelevant spam. And very few web sites would work well without cookies grabbing your site preferences or shopping cart info.

Up to now, consumers have been willing to tolerate less privacy for the benefits of a frictionless world. But they are getting increasingly uneasy about this trade, especially since the trade is becoming a far worse deal for consumers. Data collectors are not giving enough back to consumers and that needs to change.

We believe that consumers will demand and receive – either by consumer action or government regulation – the following three rights:

#1 – You should know more about yourself than anyone else knows about you.
Consumers should have the right to find out what data is being collected about them. As a consumer, you should be able to go to DoubleClick, AdBrite,, Google, Yahoo, Aggregate Knowledge, etc. and a list of all the websites that track you. You should be able to go to Choicepoint, Experian, Acxiom, Rapleaf, etc. and see all the data they collect on you. You should be able to see the same government records that the DMV, FBI and Medicare have on you. And you should be able to access this data for free at anytime.

#2 – You should be able to opt-opt.
You should have the right to opt-out, either wholly or partially, of being tracked. That means you should have the right to tell DoubleClick to never track you, or just not on sports sites in particular.

#3 – Your data should be owned by you and be portable anywhere.
You should be able to move or copy your data from one location to another location. Essentially, you should be able to export your data from Doubleclick and import it to a different system. When you join a new social network, you should be able to take your social graph from Facebook or LinkedIn with you and tear down these walled gardens.

While consumer advocates have been talking about these three rights for years, we’re closing in on making these rights a reality. With respect to item #1, consumers can now check their credit history for free once a year from each credit agency. For item #2, next generation data collectors (like Rapleaf) allow consumers to easily and selectively opt-out. And on item #3, most blog-readers have agreed to a common OPML standard for easily exporting and importing the blogs you read.

But more pressure needs to be exerted on the extreme violators of these three consumer rights and the forward-thinking data-collectors must differentiate themselves with consumers.

speaking at Stanford on Mon (Oct 15)

I’m a really big fan of the Center for Internet & Society at Stanford Law School and honored they selected me to give a seminar there next Monday:

Portable Identities and Social Web Bill of Rights
speaker: Auren Hoffman
Start: Oct 15 2007 – 12:45pm
End: Oct 15 2007 – 2:00pm

Topic Description

The future world of portable identities, reputations, and social graphs has many pluses and concerns. These portable systems could make the benefits of personalization, once only relegated to science fiction, a reality. The Social Web Bill of Rights makes the claim that users have the right to portability. But there are privacy implications to take into account as well. We will discuss an opt-out vs. and opt-in approach on data collection, privacy, and portability.

Stanford Law School- Room 280B
559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA, 94305

more at:
(if you are in Palo Alto, feel free to stop by)

Assuming an Identity on MySpace

Did you know I can sign up as you on MySpace?

That’s right … I can sign up on MySpace under your email address and assume your identity. MySpace does send an email to verify the email address – but you do not have to click on the verification email to use MySpace. You can still do everything on MySpace you’d always do – like creating an account, adding pictures, adding friends, and generally being active on MySpace.

You can assume anyone’s identity on the number one site in America. But this is only if that email address was not used to sign up for an account.

This guy named Alvin has Jeff Bezos’s email associated with him. Maybe this is Jeff’s alter-ego, but I doubt it.

And did you know the US President has a MySpace profile? Search on “” and you’ll find a guy named “the” who’s occupation is “swinger” and who’d like to meet “tyrants, weirdos, shallow corporate raiders. ex-skull and bone members.. remember the handshake. or is that remember the too.” … of course, he hasn’t logged in since 12/19/2003 – so he’s also an early adopter and early MySpace user.

1310482795_mNick Douglas from Valleywag has a MySpace account under his gmail address. If you know Nick’s gmail address and you search at you’ll be taken to his page. This is his real page.

But if you searched for Nick’s email addresses this morning you wouldn’t have found anything. Anyone with a little ingenuity can register for MySpace under his email. And I just did. If you search for his email now you’ll get this profile:

It looks legit but it is actually my putting it together. Not sure Nick got the email from MySpace with the password I picked … but if he misses the email or chooses to ignore it (because he already has a MySpace account and his other cookie overrides the link when he clicks on it), then I am as good as gold. Given the increase in Myspace phishing, and your tendency to overlook Myspace emails, I’m better than gold – I’m platinum baby.

[note: after 4 hours Nick still has not logged into his new account or changed the password]

Though this can be fun and tame … like me signing up as Clark Kent @ … it can also be used for malicious purposes. Someone can assume another person’s identity, get people to trust them, and be fooled when that person goes to verify their email address in MySpace (which is the only way to verify someone today).

Edgeio selects Rapleaf to power its feedback system

I don’t usually use my personal blog to tout Rapleaf (try to keep work/life a little separate) but last week Edgeio and Rapleaf went live with our partnership.

The guys at Edgeio (Matt Kaufman, Joseph Oster, Vidar Hokstad, and Keith Teare) are terrific to work with — i am huge fans of these guys.

more at:

Rapleaf raises small angel round

you can tell i’ve been consumed by Rapleaf as i have not had a chance to keep up summation lately.

about 6 weeks ago we raised a small angel round (about one million dollars) led by Peter Thiel (who has been super helpful). Other active angels include: Michael Birch, Jeff Clavier, James Currier, Ron Conway, Eric Di Benedetto, Founders Fund, Oliver Jung, Peter Kellner, Alex Lloyd, and Aydin Senkut.

we just hired two people (who start in a few weeks). and we are looking to hire three more amazing software developers. and we’re offer a $5000 referral reward to anyone that refers us a software engineer that we hire.

sellers and buyers on eBay/Craigslist

recently i’ve been spending a little time interviewing sellers and buyers on sites like eBay and Craigslist.  ok, i admit, i’ve actually been spending a lot of time interviewing them.

here’s something very interesting:
the power sellers are often also power buyers

that intuitively makes sense but it is not something i’ve thought about before.   this is interesting because attracting buyers and sellers in a marketplace is not as big of a chicken-and-egg problem as i had thought.