“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Will the Google subpoena ruin the attention economy?

Google’s search records have been subpoenaed by the US Justice Department as part of their crack down of pornography. (Pornography causes terrorism! Didn’t you hear?) … Attention is a new market theory that relies on company’s abilities to be able to gather data about its users and guarantee that their privacy rights will be preserved. I’m sure you can see where I’m going here ….

What is attention?

Well, the term attention is a bit abstract to me, but it is the word people are using, so I’ll do my best. If you go to read the AttentionTrust.org principles, you’ll find this blurb:

When you pay attention to something (and when you ignore something), data is created. This “attention data” is a valuable resource that reflects your interests, your activities and your values, and it serves as a proxy for your attention.

I think of it this way. Almost everything you do today leaves a digital footprint somewhere at sometime. if you get really serious about the possibilities, I can even tell when a light is turned on in your house. All these footprints can be structured using metadata and then the metadata can be used to extrapolate relationships between different prints. This amalgamation of data is “your attention”. The idea is that if you are “doing” something then you are putting attention on that act.

AttentionTrust.org is trying to set itself up to be THE trusted resource to help you control who has access to your attention (or what part of your attention they do have access to) what they can do with your data, and well hopefully in some distant future allow you to directly profit from giving access to your attention data.

The AttentionTrust.org wiki has a list of resources you might find helpful for better understanding attention.

What is Google’s relationship to attention?

As a search engine, one of the largest commodities that Google has in its war chest is the warehouse of search queries that people use to find the things they want to put attention on. The information they have can be traced directly to an individual user. Whenever you go anywhere on the net, your IP address follows you. The FBI could easily find out who is searching for what from the data available in Google’s logs.

What’s more if you are using Google Toolbar and you have the advanced features turned on, Google’s records include not just what you search for, but where you go on the web.

Further, Google is in the process of patenting “attention”. If you do a search on “google attention patent” you get lots of articles and blog posts about this topic.

What’s the deal with the Justice Department subpoena?

The Justice Department has subpoenaed Google’s search records as part of their ongoing investigation to crack down on pornography. And Google is in the process of resisting that subpoena because it “could expose identifying information about its users.” [NYTImes.com (1/20/06); registration required]

People should know is that Google is not the only search engine being subpoenaed and the other search engines that gave into their subpoenas have much of the information that google has, but not across as large a sampling just because of sheer market share of the search space.

For more general information about the situation C|Net’s News.com has put out an FAQ.

So what’s the big deal? .. FINALLY!!!

If these subpoenas continue and are upheld by the courts, it can mean that the attention economy is foiled for good. Why? It just isn’t worth the risk to capture all this data. The lost revenue will come in droves as users will only go to search engines that guarantee and are audited to be log-less. If you don’t save the data, you can’t be subpoenaed and thus no information is available for the Justice Department or any other national or international interest.

This would make the Attention Trust Recorder and sites like Root Vaults dangerous enterprises for people to be members of despite the fact that they could for most people be quite valuable.

Already, privacy advocates, whom I usually feel are doom-sayers in general, are very concerned about the general subpoenas of search engines.

It is only because Google understands the long term ramifications of such a subpoena that they have decided to resist it. I hope they succeed.

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