Spoke extends privacy safeguards

Later today, Spoke Software will announce important new privacy functionality in both their Enterprise Sales Suite and their public network.

The Spoke Corporate Privacy Suite enables “Enterprise Safe” searching of information and protects end users more effectively from intrusive behavior by giving them greater control over the accessibility of their information.

For their public network, Spoke has announced the creation of a Personal Information Review:

The new Personal Information Review features give people who are discoverable through the Spoke Network the ability to enhance, correct or remove information that can be seen by others simply by contacting Spoke and providing a digitally signed request for authentication.

In order to understand the importance of this, a brief of explanation of how Spoke works is in order. Unlike most of the other public social networks, Spoke does not rely on explicit confirmations of relationships, but builds them implicitly based upon e-mail communications. This allows Spoke users to identify connections to other people who may or may not be Spoke users themselves, and the intermediaries may not be, either. The nature of Spoke only requires that at least every other link in the chain be a Spoke user.

How does this work? Simply put, if I’m trying to connect to Person A, but I don’t know them, if there is a Person B who both of us have exchanged e-mail with, Spoke indicates that there’s a connection chain, even if B is not a Spoke user:

   Me ==> Person B ==> Person A
(Spoke         (Not a            (Spoke
  User)     Spoke User)          User)

It could even go one degree further and connect me to someone who’s not a Spoke user:

   Me ==> Person B ==> Person A ==> Person D
(Spoke         (Not a            (Spoke           (Not a
  User)      Spoke User)         User)        Spoke User)

Now, some people think this is great, because it reflects your real-world connections with a minimal amount of effort on your part. Because your first-tier connections do not have to become Spoke users, you may easily have hundreds or even thousands of connections, as opposed to the few dozen that one typically gets on other sites. With other Spoke members doing the same thing, the likelihood of a given person being found somewhere in the Spoke network, and the odds of you having a shorter connection to them, increase

On the other hand, this raises major privacy concerns for other people, because Person A has put the e-mail address and other information about B and D onto this public server without their permission. (My personal opinion on this is that having it on Spoke is little or no different than having it on any other third-party service provider one might use to host one’s own data, such as a CRM or online contact management system. A detailed explanation of why is more than I want to go into here, though.)

So why is this new Personal Information Review so important? Simply put, because it lets B and D (and A and Me) correct their information or even remove it entirely from the Spoke database. This overcomes a significant barrier Spoke was facing for mainstream adoption. It is also a major step towards meeting the European Union privacy requirements, which otherwise would have prevented adoption of Spoke throughout Europe.

Spoke also announced the creation of a Chief Privacy Officer “to oversee all efforts around privacy policy, architecture and functionality, and interface to various stakeholders including users, customers, Spoke and the community at large.” The lucky winner hasn’t been announced yet.

UPDATE: Here’s the official release from Spoke