Wednesday 23 September 2015

My data

A couple of days ago a colleague working on an interesting new e-learning tool invited me to test an initial, yet unofficial version of that tool. I clicked on the link they had sent to me. A screen appeared which asked me for my full name, my e-mail address and my company. Every single field was mandatory, that is, I could not move to the subsequent screen without providing my name, my e-mail address and a company name.

That is a threshold. When you open a book or a newspaper, no-one asks you to send your name, your e-mail address or other personal data. You open the thing and you read it. The publisher can track the number of sold books - to some extent - the places where they have been sold, and that's it. Has anyone ever complained about that?

Why, I wrote in my feed-back to the colleague, would you want to have all this information from prospective users of that tool, which is supposed to be open and free to everyone? Because, they wrote back, they wanted to know who would use the tool so as to learn and improve and also understand the spread. And then, anyone was free to submit fake data.

Well, then, what's the use of the data if you don't know whether they are real or fake? And why should users who wish to protect their privacy have to lie to gain access to the tool? Even if we assume most users will comply and disclose their data, what can one learn from people's names and e-mail addresses?

Knowledge grows only if you share it. When you design a free tool meant to contribute to bettering the world, make it easy for people to use it. You can invite users to complete a (non-mandatory) survey after using the tool. That will also reduce chances they provide bogus personal data because they wish to use the tool in an anonymous manner.

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