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Business methodology

Motivating adoption

This workshop is trying to get technologies that are inherently protective of civil liberties to be widely deployed, such that it is very difficult for either companies or governments to cork up the genie of freedom of expression and personal privacy once it's been released from the bottle. This wide deployment means that the technologies we come up with must be useable by everyone, and that means that it needs to be in place everywhere. The only apparent way to do that is to get industries behind it. After all, if every consumer had to build or program their own PC instead of buying it, there wouldn't be a consumer computer industry, or much of a network, either.

Yet most business models are directly antithetical to our goals. They make money off data-mining their customers' purchases and either using them internally, or selling them to third parties. They work to reduce their liability and the complexity of doing business through any means necessary, even if that means selling their customers' privacy up the river (e.g., they will not optimize for shielding customers from subpoenas unless the business itself finds answering lots of subpoenas to be costing it too much money). And their customers, for the most part, either don't care about this, or have little choice because there is great uniformity in this behavior across many market segments.

How, then, do we motivate businesses to attempt to protect their customers' civil liberties? This is even thornier if their customers don't care, and worse yet if doing so puts them at any sort of competitive disadvantage (either in ease-of-use of the business's product, or profit margin relative to competitors).

A few solutions spring to mind, but they are each incomplete, and the total set is no doubt massively incomplete. The workshop needs to try to figure out better methods than:

Which comes first -- technology or business?

A strong argument can be made that, for something which is intended to be widely deployed, a plausible business plan should come first, and that should drive the technology which is developed. On the other hand, group discussions of business plans in a mostly non-business crowd -- as is true of CFP in general and the workshop in particular -- tend not to be as productive as one might hope. We therefore hope that the technological solutions generated in the workshop will, if disseminated widely enough, inspire businesses to start basing business models around them. These businesses can then take the technology sketches we develop here and transform them into products and infrastructure that can actually fight for civil liberties.

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Lenny Foner
Last modified: Thu Apr 13 18:14:12 EDT 2000