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?
- If Plaxo's servers get broken into, all of my contact information is available to the world.
- 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.