Activity Monitors are Scary

Have you heard of Usermetrix? They have a slick video you can check out. The idea is that you use their library to see exactly how users are using your mobile application. It sounds great. You know what steps people are taking and what is causing errors. It emails everything your customers are doing with your app so you can take that information and make your product better. Everyone likes better products right?

Progressive is another company making an effort to understand their customers better as well. You can have a monitor installed in your car that will tell Progressive how you are driving. Finally, all those bad drivers out there will see that their poor driving costs others money and you will see a huge discount for your attention to safety. Nothing wrong with that. Right?

Wrong. Both of these ideas are ludicrous. The world is moving towards more and more monitors in the theory that this expanse of information will help make life easier. The fact is this information does nothing. If you could just log interactions and find out what is wrong, then software could feasible fix itself. Did you get a call that a family member had been hurt badly and needed you to speed over to help? Well guess whose insurance might go up. If it doesn’t go up, then why? Aren’t they paying attention? All this information is rarely useable.

Most importantly though, these monitors inhibit privacy. Privacy is a core tenant of freedom. The boundary created by freedom is worthless without enforcing privacy. Should the government say, “Do what you want, we just get to watch”? When you invite organizations to monitor your every move, you are saying your freedom doesn’t matter. The $100 discount you might save per year is worth handing over part of your car ownership to an insurance company. The $1 app purchase is more important than keeping your contacts safe. The gains you are making are trivial. The people wanting these logs are lazy. Your privacy is worth more than a few bucks.

This is why Open Source and Free Software are so important. When own something, it is yours. Free Software is meant to protect your right to use that computer as you see fit. Are people going to abuse these tools. Of course. People abuse everything! That doesn’t mean we should limit everyone’s access. Freedom is not perfection, it is a right. It is your right to recognize opportunity, take on the risk and find success or failure. By providing access to your life via these monitors, you are only lowering the risk taken by the companies asking for the information. They won’t be able to use the information in a way that truly benefits you. Just say no.