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The Internet Privacy The Almighty Buck

Myware and Spyware 199

Posted by Zonk
from the choose-but-choose-wisely dept.
smooth wombat writes "A new startup aims to provide you with a piece of software that stores all of your sufing habits. Where you go, how long you stay, how many hours online you spend surfing, etc. Why? So you can then offer that information to companies in exchange for something of value. Seth Goldstein's company is in the early testing stages of a service called Root Vaults which right now only works with Firefox. You can choose whether to send this data to your Root Vault, some other service, or just store it on your computer. There are a few restrictions on the use of this data. From the article: 'Any company that uses this data must agree to four basic principles: the data is the property of the user, it can be moved from one service or device to another at will, it can be exchanged for something of value, and the user has the right to know who is using it and how.'"
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Myware and Spyware

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  • How much (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:14PM (#14510598)
    is the information of a single person really worth? I don't see how the time and effort would be worth it to install this program and then sell the data.
  • by Aladrin (926209) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:15PM (#14510602)
    Something of value? A penny is of value. And they can require you amass 10,000 pennies to cash out your value. This clause prevents nothing.

    Besides which... Companies can already obtain this information without the user knowing, why would they pay?
    • Value of a new lead (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      A penny is of value

      Except we're all worth a hell of a lot more than that as a prospective, qualified lead. Depending on the product/service being sold, a new lead can go from $25 to several hundred dollars (higher end, more detailed data can go even higher).

      I'd expect no less than $50 per vendor, to be split at some level with the information broker. Perhaps 25% to the customer from every lead, though it's getting close to "not worth my time" at $10-$15 per lead and will dillute their data with mostly lower
    • by tom2275 (863625) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:55PM (#14510995)
      The local Albertsons grocery store has the same program. You sign up for one of their "reward cards" and you get discounts off many items. On a typical $200 shopping, I'll save $15. Selling my info is worth it there, why not online?
      • by the chao goes mu (700713) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @01:21PM (#14511284)
        Of course, in the days before discount cards they would have given those discounts to everyone and called them "sales". So, actually, they are giving out fewer discounts than they would have and getting marketing info for free.
        • I don't always know if that is true. One of the markets near me that runs one of these still has sales. Sometimes there are additional savings for people with a card, but most of the time on these sales the card adds (or subtracts I guess) nothing. Now there are far more items discounted by a few cents or with special deals with the card, but most of the really good sales are the same price with or without card.
          • "I don't always know if that is true. One of the markets near me that runs one of these still has sales. Sometimes there are additional savings for people with a card, but most of the time on these sales the card adds (or subtracts I guess) nothing."

            Sure, some sales might not need the card. But that is an aberration. Generally, if a store has a card, all those in store reductions now require a card where they didn't before. Hence any "savings" with the card are not new savings. You just have to jump through
          • I have no idea if the fact that a store tracked with a customer card contributed to the demise of said store. Once they started requiring a card for any sale items I quit shopping there. Too much of a hassle, and I didn't like the tracking. Several other people I know did the same thing.
        • In '03 when I moved to socal I happen to shouldersurf the guy in front of my at Ralph's telephone number, as he punched it in to the "club card" thing. Thanks to me, he has a LOT of wine club credit built up over the last 3 years.
        • Of course, in the days before discount cards they would have given those discounts to everyone and called them "sales". So, actually, they are giving out fewer discounts than they would have and getting marketing info for free.

          This isn't strictly true: in theory the market info they get from the discount cards allows for tageted advertizing, which increase their sales. A procentage of the extra income goes towards extra sales. => Some of the sales given to people with discount cards wouldn't have been po
        • Or coupons. I agree with "the chao goes mu" - I hate that any discount that I used to get as a customer now requires that I allow them to track my purchasing habits. Back off.
        • I don't remember too many "sales" at the grocery store. They certainly tried a lot of ways to trade minor discounts for marketing data though; coupons being the most obvious. I'd guess they're giving out comparitively more discounts these days (and possibly raising prices to cover it) and getting much better marketing data.
          I don't worry much about the supermarket discount cards though. They generally don't care if you give them a real name, because mostly they don't even track it. The valuable data is "
        • Of course, in the days before discount cards they would have given those discounts to everyone and called them "sales". So, actually, they are giving out fewer discounts than they would have and getting marketing info for free.

          True, but you can fight back. For example, Safeway is currently collecting data on one 'Wombat Jones' of South Gnome Alaska. And to further confuse things, I trade these cards around with my friends as often as I can. If you pay cash, they cannot attach the shopping data to any rea
        • Finally it is worth something here.

          Kroger stores with attached gas stations will give you ten cents per gallon off of your gas purchase (one per) if you purchased over $100 in groceries in the previous month. This is good for one gas purchase per $100 in purchases.

          Now that can add up fast, and it is obvious that gas prices are competitive with others in the area. (I also live very close by, and we will fuel multiple cars per purchase, sometimes over $200-300 in gas)

          That is saving me REAL money, and I can no
  • right to know? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by engagebot (941678) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:16PM (#14510613)
    "it can be exchanged for something of value, and the user has the right to know who is using it and how."

    we'll see how this works. i think if they're *buying* the info from you (aka you recieve value for it), i'm not sure how much say you have over what they do with it.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:20PM (#14510664)
      Why sell it to them? Do what they do and 'LICENSE' it.
      • You're joking, but people license information like that all the time.

        For example, if you were to do a direct mail advertising campaign, and needed a list of people to send it to, companies would be more than happy to get you that information. However they will not sell it to you, they will only lease it. Which seems kinda pointless, but it gives them legal ground to sue your ass if you use it after the lease period.

        Its kind of like creating an artificial reason to have recurring charges.

    • not if the "sale" license is written like a software or commercial music sale license. then they would only have use of the info as long as they used it in a manner agreeable to us.
      of course, the mere mention that WE might do something like this will probably get me flamed, but given that B.S. is legal, we might as well get some use out of it too.
  • by jasongetsdown (890117) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:16PM (#14510615)
    So make you info available on your own terms. Great idea, but why barter with each individual when you can still buy their info wholesale. Data wholesalers aren't just going to go away, and this still doesn't keep others from tracking you without your permission.
    • Maybe companies could use this against competitors that use wholesalers? Launch a smear add campaign showing how they value customers while their wholesale-using competitor is abusing them? Then get away with charging a higher price for being The Good Guy(TM).
  • by Alex P Keaton in da (882660) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:16PM (#14510619) Homepage
    What is this thing of value? If they offer me something that I really want, I would consider it, on my work machine. No way I would let anyone monitor my home habits however. What could monitoring me at work hurt? All they would see is slashdot and various news sites....
  • Terms of Service (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mean Variance (913229) <mean.variance@gmail.com> on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:17PM (#14510634)
    Any company that uses this data must agree to four basic principles: the data is the property of the user, it can be moved from one service or device to another at will, it can be exchanged for something of value, and the user has the right to know who is using it and how.

    And some company that agrees to this (wink, wink) decides to violate those terms. Then what?

    I'll keep my browsing to myself. I can see this being part of the default install from the IS department at a corporation near you.

    • Perfect tools for watching behavior of your emplyees? Isn't it?

      "Hello John, I noticed that you read the slashdot and the window with the slashdot page has a focus about 3hours average every day. You are fired." ;-)
      • Perfect tools for watching behavior of your employees, isn't it?

        Don't think that your bosses don't already have this.

        However, as an employee, you aren't privy to exactly how much they know. Something like this could help an employee to track his own net access and better curb his behavior.

        Most businesses though won't allow employees to install such monitoring software or hardware for themselves.
    • Funny, I was thinking about the same thing.. it could be used by control-freak parents who would probably never actually check the logs.. and by businesses in the same manner.
  • Cheat the system (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Arthur B. (806360) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:18PM (#14510639)
    Remembers me those "get paid to surf" adbars... eventually people will find a way to cheat the system to make more money, making the stats useless.
    • I bet people set up PC surfbot farms just to get paid until their VC runs out.
    • Yup. This is, in general, a problem that happens whenever server software asks a bunch of client computers for information and depends on the returned results to be honest. Only this time, it doesn't seem that there would be any particular reward for, say, visiting advertising sites a particular number of times or anything like that. As long as they build their scheme such that there's no reward for browsing for more than a few hours a day they can probably avoid shenanigans aimed simply at making money.
    • If the stats are worthless then we need to add HTTP PING counters. That will fix everything.
  • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:19PM (#14510647) Homepage Journal
    This reminds me of the frequent shopping card you can use at the grocery store. I don't have one of those (I actually just use one of my parent's phone numbers for the discounts).

    I think I'd be happy to trade my browsing patterns in exchange for something. I already don't mind advertisements on websites that I like (and if they have ads that seem interesting to me, I will always not only click the ads but try to make a purchase if I like the product/price.). I don't mind cookies or any of that stuff. I know it is there, and I don't really care what they do with my "information" as I don't have anything to lose in the lifestyle I live.

    I actually support these "invasios of privacy" as they help bring me a better browsing experience when people know what I am looking for and are out there supporting (through AdSense or direct advertising) the content creators I go to every day. I subscribe to /. but I still click links that interest me -- do you? I've made purchases through /. and told the advertiser it was because of slashdot that I found them and that I support them.

    I don't support spyware though, unless I know I can get something out of it. I'd give up all my browsing experience in exchange for a little residual return -- maybe if I knew what ad clicks earned the site, or if I knew that I had an effect on what advertisers would offer me.

    My big hope for AdSense this year is that Google goes beyond contextual targetting, but also finds a way for users to "vote" certain ads up and down based on their identity. I don't need to see some ads, but I'll be happy to support advertisers who know what I want and support the sites I visit.
  • by Control Group (105494) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:19PM (#14510651) Homepage
    What value is there in my personal data? How important is highly-specific tracking data on one person? The value of marketing data, in my understanding, is in being able to match marketing to potentially profitable demographics. As such, personal data is highly valuable in volume, but I doubt the value of any individual's information. My grocery store is willing to give me a couple bucks in discounts every couple weeks to track my purchasing habits. At a guess, I'd say it would amount to maybe ~$100/yr if I took them up on it.

    But that's a long way from actually paying me money. And even if real cash were involved, how many people are going to trust the system enough and go to the effort of proactively doing this for the prospect of an extra $100/yr?

    My guess is, not enough people to make the marketing data harvested worth the money or effort. And that's not even considering that companies are more than capable of getting most of this information already at no cost...

    But I could be way off base, or missing something.
    • And even if real cash were involved, how many people are going to trust the system enough and go to the effort of proactively doing this for the prospect of an extra $100/yr?

      Every broke college student with student loans and credit card bills. Heck, they'll find a way to have more than one profile so they can rake in the dough.

    • My grocery store is willing to give me a couple bucks in discounts every couple weeks to track my purchasing habits. At a guess, I'd say it would amount to maybe ~$100/yr if I took them up on it.

      It's more valuble than you realize.

      Just look at all the loyalty programs, which are all in essence the same thing as this proposal. I know for instance, with my grocery store loyalty program [airmiles.ca], I earn enough points every year to get two free round-trip airline flights, each of which is worth around 600 bucks.

      • Wow

        I want in on your grocery store loyalty program. If mine offered that kind of incentive, I'd actually be willing to trade my info for it. As it stands, my store indicates on every receipt how much I would have saved if I had their card. I haven't tracked it carefully, but I've never seen a total higher than $10 (and that was including a BOGO offer on a 1/2-gallon ice cream buy), and generally see in the vicinity of $2 (these numbers on ~$80/trip).

        I'm sure I could arrange for more by trying to time purcha
        • You're not married with kids and a huge weekly shopping bill then? Have you not seen people load up a shopping trolley so its practically overflowing, with bags hung off the side? Think how much they get back.
          If you also get loyalty rewards on your fuel purchases, then those little bits you and I get back add up over time.

          Believe me, you *never* say 'no thanks' when the cashier offers to take £5 off your bill.
          • Having cashiered in a grocery store for a few years, yes - I've seen my share of determined women hauling two (occasionally three!) packed-to-the-rafters shopping carts around the store. And coming from a family of five, three of whom were strapping young men with appetites to match, I did my share of the cart corralling in that sort of situation.

            So you're entirely right, it will add up to real savings for high-volume shoppers. But the tracking of your online behavior doesn't scale as well, I think, which i
        • You can write anything on those 'loyalty' cards and nobody checks.

          make up a name, address, zip code and phone number.
          If you're feeling cheecky, use your local town hall's address & phone number.

          they really don't care if the information is tied directly to you, they just want the aggregate shopping information.

          The dumbest thing ever, is that some supermarkets give you two key fobs and two cards. I hand them out to friends.

          BTW - My mom is an amazing shopper. She saves the receipts to show me and she regul
          • Markups vary a lot from store to store and from product to produce. The markup on cereal (manufacturer + retailer) is about 1,000%. The markup on milk is very small, at any store. Big stores will nail you harder for staples and give better discounts for more elastic products, mom and pop stores are the opposite (amazingly, they undercut large stores by a healthy margin for some highly inelastic stuff like bolts and machine screws).

            It's very rare for a retailer to lose money on a sale, and the goods that are
    • Darwin's going to take care of this business model fairly quickly, and the Invisible Hand Of The Market is going to give it the Invisible Finger.

      AFAICT, this is basically offering to let you give the company your surfing information so that spammers can stalk you around the web and target you with coupons for Viagra and Wristwatches instead of untargeted ads. The article says they might sell the ads to mortgage companies - but I already own a home, and therefore the mortgage companies *already* spam me

    • There is already precedent for this; Upromise [upromise.com] has tie-ins with the major supermarkets where data from your "loyalty-card" is used by corporations such as Coca-Cola to donate money into your children's college funds.

      This model says your data isn't worth very much money, although this depends on what you buy. In the end the market will decide what the value is.
  • 5th provision (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jasongetsdown (890117) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:22PM (#14510681)
    I'd like a 5th provision to the agreement. The data will not be linked to my identity. I don't mind providing anonymous stats but I want at least a little privacy.
    • "I'd like a 5th provision to the agreement. The data will not be linked to my identity. I don't mind providing anonymous stats but I want at least a little privacy."

      No offense, but you're trying to have your cake and eat it to. The assumption is...you are selling them this information and saying "yes, these are MY habits" and would be compensated for the loss of privacy.

      What you're suggesting would never be feasible because it simply isn't worth it to a company to pay you for anonymous information.

  • They're going to have a tough time competing with the vast amounts of data that Google is collecting on everyone and has been collecting for some time.

    http://religiousfreaks.com/ [religiousfreaks.com]
  • Make it up (Score:4, Funny)

    by matt me (850665) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:23PM (#14510695)
    We all know the web isn't the "click here for free mony [sic]" place pop-ups have led us to believe. In deed putting adverts on your personal website, sending free ipod links, selling spam emails, google referrals, beanz, whatever you don't earn money like this. But anyway, why can't we just make up some data and then send it?
  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:25PM (#14510709) Homepage
    I really wonder who owns the information being brokered. It leads me to a lot of questions... some not related to this topic specifically though.

    One question I ask myself is if I can copyright my personal data. And when I see the information being misused, can I then sue for copyright infringement?
    • by 31415926535897 (702314) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:35PM (#14510801) Journal
      One question I ask myself is if I can copyright my personal data. And when I see the information being misused, can I then sue for copyright infringement?

      That's a really good idea, but I am pretty sure that your personal data would be classified as fact and therefore not "copyrightable." Although, watch for the lawsuits against MLB and the MLBPA for the licensing of player statistics. If the MLB wins, then I think you have a good case for copyrighting your personal data.

      • Maps are representation of Fact. Dictionaries are representation of fact. Almanacs... encyclopedias... owner's manuals... All are publishings of fact, yet all are copyrighted...
        • The facts are not copyrighted, it's the presentation of the facts that are under copyright.

          Almost all classical music is within the public domain. That doesn't mean I can go out and start broadcasting or charging admission to hear Beethoven's 9th off of a CD I just purchased at Sam Goody. The music is copyright free but the performance by the orchestra that recorded the CD is copyrightable. If I want a truly free version of the music I have to either buy a royalty free version of it or hire my own orchest

        • It's entirely legal to copy the torque specs for head bolts out of the factory service manual and share that information. It's not legal just to fax the page to someone. Ditto for maps. You can read a map and tell someone where a street goes, and even put that information someplace for other people - but you can't copy part of the map for them. Not too complicated...
      • The application of copyright to "facts" is largely set by precedent in Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service [wikipedia.org].

        It was decided in the case that facts themselves cannot be copyrightable, but some sort of collection, if novel, can be. From the article:

        It is a long-standing principle of United States copyright law that "information" is not copyrightable, O'Connor notes, but "collections" of information can be. Rural claimed a collection copyright in its directory. The court clarified that the intent

  • Can you get that in a kit?
  • Incoming! (Score:3, Funny)

    by meringuoid (568297) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:28PM (#14510744)
    A perl script to automatically surf pages on a spare machine and fill this thing up with valid-looking but nonetheless phony data, in 5... 4... 3...
    • Yessssssssssss!!!!! Got an old HP sitting at home with nothing to do... Hehehe...
    • A perl script to automatically surf pages on a spare machine and fill this thing up with valid-looking but nonetheless phony data, in 5... 4... 3...

      Even better: Get poor people in foreign countries hooked up to cheap windoze boxes, and have them surf at high speed with tabs 8 hours a day.
    • A perl script to automatically surf pages on a spare machine and fill this thing up with valid-looking but nonetheless phony data, in 5... 4... 3...

      And just how do you think you are going to know about all of those offers of "something of value"? Imagine all of the marketing firms offering you great discounts on XYZ you have no interest in buying. Unless the offer is hard cash only, this service will equal one huge billboard for you to look at.

  • It's just like being a Nielsen household, but being able to choose afterwards to participate, instead of having to be selected beforehand.

    Your Tivo's know what you watch for a while now.

    The biggest concern I have is the potential for unwanted exposure of the data, via worm or "hacker".
    • what you even 'repeat' for a few seconds..
      http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9584_22-5154219.html [zdnet.com]

      TiVo said users had watched the skin-baring incident nearly three times more than any other moment during the Super Bowl broadcast, sparking headlines that dramatically publicized the power of the company's longstanding data-gathering practices.

      • This is one more example of why Free Software is about much more than free beer. Free Software systems could never get away with the kinds of abuses Tivo gets away with, and if the program leaders tried, the program would get quickly forked.
  • Market research has little value if the sample size is not large enough. So basically this guy is aggregating a bunch of people...pooling the data which has huge value then splitting the proceeds...great move if he can pull it off but just how many people are willing to hand over private info for a couple of bucks.
    Last focus group I attended paid me $100.00 and lunch for an hour of my time and my opinion on politics of the day. I doubt the payout would be anywhere near that in this case.
  • Why not create the next product in the line up and name it MyHome. They can setup hidden cameras in people's houses which send information and video to companies who wish to pay for it so they can target more ads and find more ways for me to send my hard earned funds on stuff that doesn't matter.
  • And for an extra fee, I suppose you want to take videos in my bedroom too.

    No thanks, Google is already monitoring my browsing habits. I wouldn't want to make them mad.

    • Read what else Mr. Goldstein is involved in by Googling. His business ventures are clearly at odds with any real effort to safeguard users.

      Is this the same fellow who teaches at CMU? Looking at the Google pages, if it's all the same gentlemen, he has about 5 different paychecks. He must be loaded.
  • If you are going to write an article about the value of something, please define EXACTLY what value is.

    This article gives no specific examples of what you would receive in exchange for these companies spying on you. All they use are buzzwords like 'something of value' or 'a lower rate or a special deal' which could mean something as lame as 10% off your next purchase.

    This fact alone makes me think that it is probably not worth it.
  • by Stan Vassilev (939229) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @12:39PM (#14510849)
    "A new startup aims to provide you with a piece of software that stores all of your sufing habits. Where you go, how long you stay, how many hours online you spend surfing, etc. Why?"

    Here's few why:

    - So it can gain user's trust, but is in fact glorified spyware
    - So police has an easy storage to inspect should RIAA/MPAA decide to sue you for visiting pirate torrent trackers, grokster.com or other such activity (hey, you're not anonymous! they, OMG, they got your IP!!)
    - So malware has an easy storage to collect user info for it and send it out, instead of collecting it itself.
  • Companies are now willing to pay us to look at porn.
  • Does anybody here remember AllAdvantage.Com? :)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "a piece of software that stores all of your sufing habits."

    As a whirling dervish [dankphotos.com], I've been looking forward to software to keep track of my total number of spins.

  • I can't understand how anyone would be comfortable selling this data, but I don't understand how people can sell blood plasma either, so meh.
  • by Britz (170620)
    How about making many of those "features" of the new "spyware" mandatory for all spyware?
  • Any company that uses this data must agree to four basic principles: the data is the property of the user, it can be moved from one service or device to another at will, it can be exchanged for something of value, and the user has the right to know who is using it and how.

    And what's going to prevent companies from violating those principles? DRM?

  • I wrote Clinko Music [clinko.com] to do this a few years ago with itunes & Winamp and actively update it.

    Give it a try. It's pretty kool.

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