June 25, 2007

Plaxo Makes Me Scared

Web services that offload the burdon of tedious repetitive tasks offer a wonderful promise. And things like having to update your address book every time any one of your contacts changes something just seems like one of those things that the modern Web ought to solve. And in fact, it does. Plaxo offloads this burdon to each individual to maintain their own contact information – rather than the hundreds of individuals that know that person.

Seems like a good thing, right? Well, almost – except for the details:

  • It puts the burdon of maintaining your understanding of someone else's address on that other person. Plaxo sends me a reminder email to "check" if I've updated my information every now and then – even if I never change anything, and even if I don't use Plaxo. This looks like a convenience feature for you, but I see it as actually being Plaxo's excuse to send advertising to everyone in your address book at your request with your credibility and (literally) your face. Do you really want to be supporting their advertising?
  • Plaxo says they will maintain great privacy of my contact information, but should I believe that? From their privacy policy, "Plaxo will not sell, exchange, or otherwise share Your Information with third parties, unless required by law or in accordance with your instructions." In other words, because you want to maintain a personal database of information about me, the government now has instant access to all of my personal information immediately.
  • If Plaxo's servers get broken into, all of my contact information is available to the world.
  • You should be aware that Plaxo explicitly maintains the right to spam you. From their privacy policy, they maintain the right: "To provide you with information about Plaxo products, services, news and events through the Software, the Site or e-mail;"
  • Plaxo can change their policy at any time – and instantly start selling all of everyone's information at will. If they are sold, for example, there is no reason to expect that a buyer wouldn't do so if it was profitable.

Plaxo is not unique – there are lots of places that centralize personal information (think Google). But this one worries more than others because they focus on personal information, and the relationship between individuals, and have an explicit business model and policy of actively and repeatedly soliciting non-customers. They also are unique in shifting the burdon from the user of information to someone else – without their permission.

No comments: