Interesting candidate list for Times 2013 Person of the Year. Perhaps a reflection of social consciousness or a pivotal moment when media has officially abandoned journalistic principles for entertainment values. Please do not get me wrong, Pope Francis is a worthy candidate based on his message of change, equality, and humanity, but he is only doing his job for a representative +1 billion Catholics. While this takes courage, he has not been, persecuted or exiled for sharing his message.

With +34% of the 7.9 Billion people on the planet connected to the Internet, applications, content, and services are widely available for the broadband elite. Online cloud platforms rule the day and subscription models have lost ground to advertising based business models. Establishing a consumer’s identity is the conversion imperative. Selling personally identifiable information and consumer tracking is the path to profitability but in the last few years computing has become both more personal and highly pervasive. Embedded operating systems and native applications for Smartphones, Tablets, Smart TVs and gaming consoles are capturing streams of always on personal data.

Surveillance is the primary business model of the Internet. Cookies, Beacons, Tokens, networking addresses, device IDs, device names, user names, domains, DNA, Bio Metrics, facial patterns, GPS footprints, health data, credentials and many other data attributes or classes are collected as personal identification. Anything used for identification purposes will also be used for tracking, targeting, surveillance and analytics.

Policies always evolve much slower than technology but the timer only starts when transparency or detection occurs. One could argue that the cause is the accelerated pace of innovation, the dysfunctional state of governing agencies, or the bipartisan nature of politics. Any of these positions would not be mutually exclusive or incorrect. Snowden started the clock by starting the conversation and gets my vote for raising the cost of surveillance and idealistically improving the potential outcomes for the Internet economy.

Congress, FISA, NSA, IETF, NIST, EFF, EPIC, IAB and plenty of other NGA’s are all weighing in on the great Digital Rights v.s. Civil Liberties debate. The problems and abuses are apparent but in order to devise reasonable policies to moderate intent, motivations and raise the cost of undesired behaviors we need to take a step back. The arms race to encrypting everything, obfuscating our point of origin by riding proxy pipes, or relying on permissioned based API’s will not solve the problems alone.

Before we embark on the policy debates, I suggest we start apply a little dimensioning to the problem by globally agreeing on a technical definition for what constitutes Personally Identifiable Information.

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