Spying On Myself

It seems kind of like an odd concept.  Why would anyone need to spy on themselves?

Well I can think of a bunch of reasons when it comes to digital media.

But first, a little historical context.

We’ve all had that terrible experience with spyware that has been installed on our machines without our knowledge or permission. That spyware often tracked our behavior and used that information to deliver popup ads or some other form of annoyance.  Fortunately, through technology, government attention, and changing market norms, the spyware threat seems to be fading a bit.

Maybe the logical successor to spyware is "myware" as my friend Seth Goldstein likes to call it.

Myware is software that runs on our computers and other digital devices and tracks our behavior, in many ways like the spyware we all hate.  But there’s an important difference.  Myware is put on our devices by us.  We spy on ourselves.  Again, why would we do this?

Well, for one because we honestly can’t keep track of everything we do.  And because what we do and how we consume digital media is important.  Important to us and to others who might learn about new stuff by watching our behavior.

Some examples.

Last.fm is a music service that I’ve written about in the past.  You download and install some "myware" that last.fm provides and it tracks the music you listen to in iTunes, Winamp, Yahoo!,and a number of other music services. Your music listening history is shown on the web to you, in case you are interested in seeing what you’ve been listening to, and everyone else.  In addition, last.fm has a music player that creates a streaming audio/internet radio channel just for you based on what you’ve been listening to.  And, most importantly, last.fm creates a social network for you by linking you to people who share your music tastes.  It’s a great service and I use it all the time to find new music.

Attention Trust is a non-profit that is trying to promote user control over their clickstream information.  If you use Firefox, you can download the Attention Trust Firefox Extension and it will capture all of your clickstream information and report it to any Attention Trust compliant services.  I do that and send my data to a Root Vault. I am not exactly sure what will happen if you click on the link to Root Vault.  But when I do it, I see a summary of my web clickstream.  It is interesting to me to know that I spend 14% of my Internet clicks on this blog, by far more than anywhere else.  Next is Amazon.com with 6%.  Rhapsody and Delicious come in next around 2%.  That’s interesting to me.  I would like to be able to share that information with everyone else in the hope that it may be useful in some way to others. My friend Seth Goldstein is involved in both Attention Trust and Root
and has done as much thinking about this as anyone I know.

These are two good ones, but there are many more.  While this isn’t technically an example of myware, Josh and I have been spending a lot of time on Xbox and Xbox Live.  Xbox tracks your game play and records your level of skill and then shows that to everyone else on Xbox Live so you can get paired into a quality match.  Another excellent example of spying on yourself at work.

The point I am making here is that spying on yourself is a trend that I see developing on the Internet and in digital media in general.  I think it will bring tremendous value to users over time as they and others benefit from the data that is created in this way.  As long as the user is in control of their myware data, and they must be for any of this to work, then I see no reason why this won’t be a great thing for everyone.

If someone is going to spy on you, it’s probably best if its you.