Just back from the successful Euro IA 2007 conference in Barcelona and coming down from the buzz you get at events like that. Lots to think about and to tell.

In a conversation with some folks about privacy and distributing personal information–prompted by Mags Hanley’s talk at the conference–I was reminded or Benjamin Brunk’s concept of exoinformation. This takes the perspective of the individual in discussion of privacy:

Exoinformation is the informational byproduct of an individual’s information-seeking activities. This byproduct, or “data exhaust” as Olsen calls it, has become more and more important to people building profiles about consumers. An entire industry devoted to collecting and making sense of exoinformation already thrives.

Specifically, exoinformation consists of the tidbits of information that are unconsciously or unwittingly disseminated by people’s everyday actions. All life processes produce exoinformation. Observing that someone is breathing will reveal that he or she is alive. We already have a pretty good understanding of these subtleties in the physical world, but the cyber realm offers new challenges for individuals to understand and manage information leakage. Examples of exoinformation include a preference or a behavior captured and recorded as the result of posing a search query, selecting a song to listen to, checking on a stock quote or just clicking through a website.”

He believes we can still have privacy on the Internet. Instead of trying to keep people out of our personal information, we may have to worry more about what we can keep in. This is an important distinction in designing privacy in the digital world. Interestingly enough, Brunk sees interface design as a place where privacy can be better managed.

“User interface design practices emphasize removing cognitive load burdens from users and shifting them to the interface. A byproduct of this approach, and in software customization/personalization in general, is that it can often increase the amount of exoinformation available for broadcast.”

It doesn’t appear that Brunk or anyone else has taken up this concept since the original article appeared in the ASIST Bulletin. Googling “exoinformation” pretty much points back to that publication. Given the level of interest in discussions at the Euro IA conference this past weekend (Sept 21-22, 2007) about privacy and personal information, it would be great to see more on this subject.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL

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