Dear Mr. Website, Work For My Information, Dammit!

Every day we enter more and more of our personal information into sign up pages on the Web. And more and more there’s a disconnect between what we think we’re signing up for and what we really get.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind signing up for things online. I often do, actually. But, if you’re going to ask me for information, I better see some results after I give you it.

For instance, Netflix. They went down the path of creating a decent community a few years ago when you could see what your friends liked and recommended, but they obliterated that. It wasn’t perfect, but I have similar tastes to my friends and so I could count on seeing something they watched and wanting to see it too. But that feature is gone. What’s more, they didn’t have the decency to replace it with a recommendation engine that really works.

Point being, I’m a big movie watcher – I’ve seen a lot of them and when I first signed up I rated a lot of movies. Why? Because Netflix said I’d get more personalized recommendations. Well, I rated enough movies to wonder when those personalized recommendations are coming. No really. It’s been years – I did what you asked, Netflix, by clicking endless little yellow stars. Hello?

In stark contrast, Pandora, the music streaming service, asks for one song and compiles a playlist that very often is like reading your mind. One song! And it does seem to “learn” as you go. Am I supposed to believe Pandora can do that with one song and Netflix, having years of renting habits of me and people like me, can’t glean a decent recommendation from all that data?

But I digress… The ultimate insult online to any person’s time and intelligence is asking them to perform an empty task; to contribute even more personal information only to under deliver on the goods after they do. If your web app or service doesn’t work, here’s a thought: don’t release that feature yet. Of course, the almighty Google gets around that by perpetually slapping the word Beta on everything. That I can live with.

And I get it. If its a free website, you’re going to give up some info so they can serve you some relevant advertising. They have to get paid afterall. But we’re slipping into paid services doing this too. It even happens in the real world. I can’t purchase something at a retail store without them asking for my zip code and other little bits of info. I have a keychain full of those loyalty rewards cards they scan at checkout – what do they still need?

And movie theaters (I believe they still exist right?). You purchase a ticket, yet you still sit through a half hour’s worth of commercials before the movie starts. (Trailers don’t count. I like trailers.)

…let’s take a breath.


Again, asking for this info in exchange for something – anything – that’s OK. But, very often a web app or service offers nothing in return. People are shaky online with the whole privacy thing anyway, why stoke that concern?

The trend is such that we have the Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world training a whole generation that the default settings are the over-reach that the marketing department would love you not to notice. And the settings you really want, you have to constantly monitor to make sure they remain set.

And so I offer little remedy, except to say that these services need us too. New ones pop up all the time and competition is fierce for the Twitters and Facebooks of the world. We, the users, are the ones contributing endless content to these sites every day. And so a little common courtesy goes a long way. Show me the value, then ask for my birthday, favorite color, and social security number.

And now, please leave your birthday, favorite color, and social security number in the comments below. Thanks.

Keith Link is co-founder of Sessionville; And in no particular order: Human; Artist; Designer; Developer; Guitarist.