Why are those sites paying attention to us?

Ruby has been using LastFM a bunch recently. It’s a community website that keeps tracks of what music you’re playing on your computer, lets you tag music your listening too, and it has a browser based audio player that streams you music you might like. LOTS of data and metadata flying back and forth from user to server and server to user.

I’ve been hesitant to join up. I got tired quick of other social software sites like Friendster. Mostly because I haven’t clicked with them in a way to get me to dedicate lots of time. Plus I’ve been more and more concerned about how websites use our data and how the ACT on the metadata they create from it.

Well Ruby just sent me an e-mail that might get me to join LastFM. She said Ed Batista, of The Attention Trust, created a community on LastFM. (It was Ruby’s idea actually.) Here is the group description:

This is a group for Last.fm users who are interested in making more effective use of their “attention data” (including, but not limited to, all the data we’re sharing with Last). We’re big fans of Last, and we love their service, but we’d also love to know what Last is planning to do with this data. We hope this group will prompt some interesting discussions between Last and its users. For more information, visit Attention Trust at www.AttentionTrust.org.

Is it odd that I’d start using a website because I’m interested in how they use their data? It’s not like I’m a competitor trying to grok their business model. I’m not planning on gaming their site. It’s just that I’m a data privacy advocate who wants websites that collect any personal data to be open with us about how they use it. (uh hello Google!) Putting legalese into a super long and hard to understand privacy policy isn’t enough. We need very simple straightforward answers. (LastFM does have a good synopsis of their Terms and Conditions)

Terms and Conditions in a nutshell

* The entry of any personal data on this site is completely optional.
* We do not require an email address during sign up.
* We will not email you crap or pass on your email address to anyone, not even Lars Ulrich at gunpoint.
* Your pseudonymous listening habit data will be available to the public for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons license.
* We reserve the right to sell or license pseudonymous listening data for commercial use, however we will never sell your personal data.
* You you will always have the opportunity to remove from the system any personal information you’ve entered

A great thing about discovering this LastFM group is that I understand the Attention Trust better. I’d heard about it a few months ago and checked out the site but for some reason I didn’t get it. Now with this context of LastFM and the group description it all makes sense. But all the crap about the President admitting to spying on US citizens, Google refusing to turn over search data to the Attorney General, personal research about social network analysis, etc. has pushed me past the breaking point. I’m doing something about my personal data sharing habits. I’m shifting my attention.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to disappear from the net and stop dumping all my thoughts on ya. Naw… you’re not that lucky. 🙂 I’m just going to try and be more conscious. We all need to still give each other bits and bytes. A serious evolutionary jump of my net habits is brewing.

I’m not just interested in how corporate websites are using our data and metadata but how WE can use it to make this world better. How can we improve our lives in ways besides just making money? You could call it selfless data-mining or social data entrepreneurism.

How do we create a civil Internet society? How do we promote fairness? How do we create social justice in the 21st century? I bet part of the answer lies in socially responsible data usage.

BTW – I just joined LastFM and Attention Trust. (See the AT logo on my right side bar.)