Recently I was using a map application on my phone, an application that lets gives turn by turn driving directions and works offline without a network connection. It works very well, but provided a lesson in defaults.
Typically I use the application as it comes “out of the box”, preferring highway travel as it is typically faster and simpler. Being in California Silicon Valley I decided after one agonizing drive on 87 and 101 during rush hour that maybe back roads would be better, so I changed a preference to disable highway travel. To my delight I discovered that back roads were much preferable, especially on short trips from San Jose to Mountain View, for example. Why bother sitting on 101 if you do not need to.
Everything was fine for a few days until I decided to leave California, and drive back to SFO (the San Francisco airport, for you non-frequent travelers who haven’t memorized a wide variety of airport codes). Guess what, I started driving and soon realized I was getting a local sightseeing tour of San Jose, and had a pretty good idea I was not aimed at the highway entrance leading to 101. I definitely wanted to use 101 for that drive (or so I thought; has traffic really gotten that bad in the Valley or did I just hit a bad day?) I pulled off the road, changed the preference, and then turned off the confused device since I had neither the time nor patience to wait while it sorted itself out. I made my own decisions on how to get to 87/101 and the problem was solved.
There are two lessons here. First, it is easy to forget about preferences (that is the idea and why they are “defaults” after all). Second, recovery might require some “out of band” effort, like giving up on the tool, making a manual (human, dare I suggest) correction.
My navigation experience was not a problem because I was somewhat familiar with the area, not really relying on the device after a few days and could just “punt”. If I had really needed I could have driven around a while until the device (hopefully) oriented itself.
I’m not sure what would happen in a case where a preference is related to privacy, but I suspect that I would not be able to recover as the personal data would already have been deposited in a giant “big data” store somewhere, ready to be sold, shared and used without my control or knowledge. Thus, if I choose to set a default to remember my decision to grant access (to location, address book, camera, microphone etc) forgetting this decision might be more serious. Although I do not use many such apps now, someday I might (1). If I forget the default, seeing an indicator in the chrome probably won’t help, as ads are training me to ignore every pane except the text in the pane I care about (2).
So let us say I mistakenly forget my privacy settings and realize it later. Is there a manual, human way to recover? Ideally I would go the the record on my device of which databases the apps shared information, follow the links and request the data to be removed, which it would be. That would be nice, but I suspect not so likely.
Thus perhaps a more significant change might be needed if user privacy matters. The best story I’ve heard is that the new currency is your information, and thus it should be marked appropriately, shared conservatively, and we should all participate in the monetization. Obviously this will require some work, but seems very interesting. Privacy will be a byproduct of the monetization, not the end in itself.
(1) Perhaps someone can explain to me why so many Lumia apps seem to require knowing my location to be installed. For example, why does a battery level app need to know my location? I can only assume it is not for me, the end-user, but for ad delivery.
(2) On Safari in Reader mode the browser removes the non-interesting material, a feature that is very useful, and on Firefox I can suppress ads with an extension, but many times I find myself in a raw, ad-splattered browser window when I forget to take special action.