I updated my last post on CircleVoting.com as they added features I was asking about, including ballot information for San Francisco and new privacy controls. The privacy settings are some of the clearest I’ve come across on a socially-connected application. I’ve included a screenshot, below. One problem still is that a new account is defaulted to being Public — I think it should be Friends-Only. But if you take a second to change your settings, the short answer is yes, your privacy is protected.
Aside from the immediate visibility of your voting preferences, though, there is a larger question around how this data is used in aggregate. Voting preferences could be packaged up and sold to the highest bidder. This isn’t necessarily a privacy issue, since the data can be aggregated in a way that couldn’t identify individual voters, but it would be ideal if CircleVoting.com were up-front about whether it intended to profit from this information in the future. I asked Jesse Sanford this follow-up question. It seems that CircleVoting is still just beginning to think about this issue.
Q: Privacy and profit are often at odds. When my friends and I considered building a similar site, a while back, it occurred to us that having aggregate voting preferences combined with user demographics might be really valuable. With Murray’s [Edelman: co-founder and investor] deep experience in polling and public opinion, I imagine CircleVoting.com has thought of this as well. I think this valuable data could be monetized ethically, but there are a lot of ways to do it wrong. Do you make any public pledges to restrict how CircleVoting.com will use its users’ data, and how will you make your policies clear to your users?
Jesse: [T]he big case that isn’t handled right now is the case of a user who becomes more private and needs to remove listeners as part of that. Expect an interface that covers that case as soon as Dennis and I get to it.
You raise an interesting question about sharing aggregated information, like statistics; all I can say on that is that we have no plans to do so at this time and I really haven’t given thought to it. My intention is that whatever we do will serve the purpose of cultivating more functional, distributed democracy.
Now, it’s true that in the long run the money in electoral politics always has a side, and most sites like ours will probably face pressure eventually to make money by hooking people up with campaigns and causes they care about (and for which they might eventually donate or volunteer). If we take steps in that direction, our intention is to do so equitably for the various sides of a race/issue, in a way that continues our goal of reducing the influence of money in politics. We’ll also be sure to ask users’ permission and take community views into account if/when we develop that offering.