TR: Is there anything a person can do, other than living off the grid, to keep their digital trail to a minimum?
JJ: Oh, boy – that’s a great, great question. As consumers, we often trade our information, creating a bigger footprint, because of some opportunity being extended to us. And the biggest privacy problem I have with that is when it is a surprise to the consumer. My advice to companies and governments is to avoid consumer surprise. That’s one of the most offensive things: when you find out somebody’s doing something with your data about which you had no clue.
So my advice is to avoid consumer surprise, and that means having some degree of transparency. I believe consumers should be offered the opportunity to opt out. So the organizations that you transact with, the ones that allow the consumer to say “Hey, please don’t sell my data” and those organizations that make it easy for the consumer to opt in or out – I think consumers may eventually flock to those places where they feel the risk of consumer surprise is less.
TR: The Department of Justice has subpoenaed some of Google’s data, and the company is refusing to cooperate. What is your opinion on this?
JJ: I haven’t been following this very closely. But let’s talk about consumer surprise. I think it would be a surprise to consumers [to find] that they would be identified to the government at individual levels. I think consumers would be less surprised if Google provided just statistics.
TR: As an engineer concerned with privacy issues, what is your opinion on the NSA domestic wiretapping program?
JJ: I have not read up much on that. I don’t know whether it’s legal or not legal. I would say if it turns out to be legal and it’s going to continue, then I would say, “Could you do it with anonymous data?”
TR: As an entrepreneur, you’ve successfully looked around, found a problem, and solved it with software. In your mind, what is the most important problem to be solved today?
JJ: Picture this: We’re in a canyon, and on the left there’s this wall, and behind it is this back pressure, and that back pressure is “ill-will” that wants to do harm to democracy or the United States. And behind the other wall it is a police surveillance state. And the number of technology options that you have that don’t turn you into a police surveillance state and that prevent the ill-will intent on the left are in the middle. There are a very narrow number of solutions between these canyon walls. But the problem is, should ill-will continue to grow, the pressure behind the wall on the left becomes such that, as we march forward through time, the canyon gets narrower and narrower, and eventually you have bad things happening and you have to be a police surveillance state to protect yourself.
But the real thing that has nothing to do with technology is, if we don’t figure out how to lower ill-will, our future is darker.