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rwandering.net

The blogged wandering of Robert W. Anderson

Recording your Energy Attention

Attention applied to Internet and media use has come to mean the what, where, and how you do and don’t spend time.  For example, are you reading your news on Google or NYT? Do you use a portal like MSN or Yahoo? What do you do on Facebook?  Such information, or attention data, can be quite valuable, especially when correlated with other information.  Many companies rely on this concept, both implicitly and explicitly.

This use of the word attention, though, doesn’t apply only to the Internet and media.  It also applies to plain-old products too – which cereal you eat and where you vacation, etc. – in fact, it can apply to everything.

So, it follows, that energy attention is the subset of your attention as it applies to energy:  what, where, and how, you do and don’t use energy.  Just like the more general attention data, such data can also be quite valuable, both to you in reducing your energy use and costs, but also to third-parties for marketing and sales purposes (note that carbon attention overlaps with energy attention, but I am not going into that now).

Electric and Gas utilities record one major aspect of your energy attention today:  your electricity and gas usage data.  Most utilities provide these data back to their customers in summary form on bills, and many provide it in more detail.  My local utility, PG&E, provides me with hourly electricity and gas usage data through their Web portal.

While functional, I wanted real-time usage data.  My first thought was to use the GE SmartMeter that PG&E installed.  While the data could be retrieved from there, my access to it is on an unknown schedule with an unknown feature set.  The California Public Utilities Commission, utilities, vendors, and other stakeholders have been wrangling over issues central to the ownership and sharing of such energy attention data.  Both the Commission and PG&E have good reasons to be careful with this data:  PG&E installed and owns that meter and paid for it with rate-payer monies.  There is a decent (though somewhat dated) overview at Giga OM.  And while the Commission released an update to their proposed decision (PD) yesterday (here), the wrangling isn’t over.

So instead of waiting for this to all get resolved, I followed Jon Udell’s lead and installed The Energy Detective 5000 (TED 5000).  This monitors my home electricity usage in real time, giving me immediate access to my own energy attention data.  This to me, is exactly in the spirit of the Attention Trust (AT), an organization that I did some pro-bono work for in the past along-side of Steve Gillmor.

Now what does this have to do with attention and the AT?

Back in 2005, the AT was formed to assert user rights over attention data, specifically as it related to that data collected by Internet  services.  For example, Google tracks user attention (through clicks and time on pages, etc.) and uses that  information for operating their various services.  You consent to their right these data  through their Terms of Service (TOS).   The AT asserted that the user also owns these data.  To assert this ownership, the AT provided the Attention Recorder with which a user could record their own attention data from the browser.  The act of capturing such data from the user side of the firewall ended the discussion of who owned the data.  Yes, the Internet service has their copy and can use it based on the TOS, but the user owns the data too.

So, the TED 5000 is my own personal Energy Attention Recorder.  I assert ownership over the data and authority to do anything I want with it – including exposing it to any third-party service I so choose.

Interestingly, the PD issued yesterday names the TED 5000 specifically (although in reference to a utility comment).  This is in response to one of the CPUC questions (paraphrased):

Does the Commission have authority over entities that receive information on a consumer’s energy usage from meter sources other than a utility?

While the Commission has deferred this question, it is clear that they will face an up-hill battle on protecting consumers from their own
actions.

I, for one, claim ownership of my own energy attention.

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With Beacon, Facebook is not the problem

Unless you live under a rock (or don’t follow the social space) you know that there has been a big uproar of Facebook’s Beacon.  This is the feature that enables 3rd party web sites to transmit your actions (or “stories” in Facebook lingo) to Facebook. 

If you want to know more about how it works, Jay Goldman wrote the excellent post: Deconstructing Facebook Beacon JavaScript.  The title belies the fact that the article gives a good overview too (it isn’t just for developers).

An innovative idea — one that reminds me much of the GestureBank work conceived by Steve Gillmor and myself.  Given that, it should be no surprise that I don’t think Facebook did anything “evil” here. 

Now, they could have done a better job with it.  From the get-go, I would have preferred if they had

  • been more public about how it works; and
  • required that users “opt-in” to the whole program.

Not surprisingly, there was a backlash and Facebook made some changes (Official- Facebook Flips On Beacon).  Great.  I don’t think what they did violated their user contract, but the changes are more user-friendly.  I would prefer my User Aware contract, though this is a User Beware contract (User Contracts – Part II- User Beware). 

But, the problem isn’t with Facebook or their user contract.  If you don’t like the service (in total), don’t use it.

What I don’t understand is all the focus on Facebook here.  Like all silos they are capturing data, data, data.  That is what Facebook is all about.  

Why isn’t the focus on the 3rd parties who submit your stories?  They are the ones pouring user stories into Facebook. There have been reports of users not having approved their stories.  This is a bad thing, and maybe a technical flaw in Beacon, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the 3rd party to protect your data.

They should give the users control over their Beacon settings:

  1. Never send stories to Facebook
  2. Approve each story before it is sent to Facebook.
  3. Always send stories to Facebook.

If anything, Facebook should require this of its Beacon partners.

So, why aren’t people up in arms over the eBays, TripAdvisors, Yelps, Fandangos, Epicureans, etc.?

But, hey, if you don’t like the way these sites are spraying your data over the Internet, then stop using them.  

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User Contracts – Part II: User Beware

I recently wrote about some problems I had with the user contracts for Cluztr, an attention service.  At the time I promised to write about a user contract I could stomach.  Some of these ideas are being rolled into what Steve Gillmor has called Click Insurance to be supported by the GestureBank.  More on that soon.

My problem with the Cluztr contract is their version of user opt-in.  Cluztr is unremarkable in this way — many companies use the same approach.  Their form of opt-in goes like this:

  1. Read our user contract before you use our service (good);
  2. Using our service implies acceptance of our contract (good);
  3. We may change our user contract (not good or bad);
  4. We may not post any notification that our contract has changed (bad); and,
  5. Continued use of our service implies acceptance of our new user contract (what?).

I call this the User-Beware Contract.  This is any contract expressly allowing the service provider to change it without user notification.  The onus is on the user to be wary of the service provider.

Instead, I’d like to see the User-Aware Contract.  It goes something like this:

  1. Read our user contract before you use our service;
  2. Using our service implies acceptance of our contract; 
  3. We may (and probably will) change our user contract;
  4. We will notify you of any change;
  5. Any change will require you to opt-in again formally (through a click-through or other process);
  6. If you do not formally agree to the new contract, you will be removed form the service and all user data associated with your account will be purged.

This type of contract puts the onus on the service provider.  After all, the service provider changed the user contract — shouldn’t they take the responsibility of notifying them and getting their continued opt-in?

A variant of the latter approach is not uncommon (e.g., on banking sites).  Your data may not be purged if you don’t accept the new contract; however, you will not gain access to the site unless you do.

That said, the User-Beware Contract is, by far, the dominant contract on the Web.  The big players all use it, most of the smaller players use it.

I would like to see an attention service throw out their User-Beware Contract in place of a User-Aware Contract.  Of course, they’ll have to notify their users of the change ;)

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User Contracts — Part I: Cluztr

User contracts are the proof behind user in charge business models.  I took Steve Gillmor’s challenge to go and take a look at attention startups in search of a user contract I could stomach.  First up, Cluztr.  I suppose this is pronounced clusterApologies to my distributed computing readership — this is not a clustering company.

The interesting part of their user contract is in their privacy policy.  I call out some parts of it (out of order).

Adherence to the principle of Property

Most importantly in this context, the principle of property:

Property – You own your attention and can store it wherever you wish. You have CONTROL.

A critical corollary to this is that you can delete your attention data too.  They have this covered in the following:

Cluztr collects clickstream data by means of a browser add-on that tags your use of the Internet. We do not track Internet usage on a secure website, or capture username or password information at any time. You have full control over your clickstream data and can delete or purge our database at anytime.

Note to legal: tighten up that language.  This really should say “purge your attention data from our database” instead of offering users the right to completely delete the entire Cluztr database.

So far, so good.

Changing the policy without notice

And then we have some sticky language about changing this policy.  Granted, this is common in its user unfriendliness:

By submitting your information you consent to the use of that information as set out in this Policy. If we change our Privacy Policy we will post the changes on this page, and may place notices on other pages of the web site, so that you may be aware of the information we collect and how we use it. Continued use of the service will signify that you agree to any such changes.

In other words (my words):

You own and control your clickstream data unless we decide that you don’t.  This privacy agreement is the only place we are obligated to tell you this.

Not good.

Change of ownership

And finally, their sale caveat:

Unless otherwise stated in this Privacy Policy data relating to you will not be disclosed to any third party unless you have specifically given your consent. We will not rent or sell your personal information without your permission (other than as part of a sale of the whole or a substantial part of the assets of Cluztr).

This language makes me nervous because it appears to mean:

You own your data unless we need it as an asset to sell the company in which case we own your data.  For all intents and purposes, we own your data.

To be kind, they may mean here that your contact info (like email address) is owned by them, but your clickstream is not. If they are purchased, that contact info would be passed to a new owner.  OK, but the ownership of the clickstream should not change and, if that is their intention, they should state it.

Conclusion

Cluztr has made a good start at a user-friendly contract but then mucked it up by over reaching on rewriting the policy and on the company sale.

I wouldn’t sign up with an Attention service with such a policy.

Next up on this topic:

  1. the GBX2 broadcasting user licenses
  2. a better user contract (what I currently call triggered-opt-in)
  3. other Attention companies and their user contracts

 

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GestureBank Beta 2

The GestureBank beta 2 went live yesterday.  This beta is open.  Go to http://attentiontrust.org/gesturebank for more info.  Special thanks to Cori Shlegel for his work to get this done.

The GestureBank will be rolling out new Affinity Service capabilities next.  This is where it will start to really resonate. 

By the way: IE is not supported in this beta (as it was previously); it will take a bit of effort to get a new IE port.  This is because managed extensions are kind of a dead-end for IE.  So the existing managed port will be discarded in favor of an (eventual) unmanaged one written from scratch.  See this (techie) thread for more information: Create a Shell Extension Handler thumbnail extractor with .net?.  In this thread you can think of the words Explorer, Shell, IE, IE6, IE7, and Excel as synonyms. 

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The AT has a new design

New site design at the Attention Trust. 

http://www.attentiontrust.org/

Good job guys.  A little too much Latin, but that will get sorted out. 

Looks good. 

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