In 2006 I was horrified by Jigsaw, a website that encouraged users to upload people’s contact information (often from business cards) for money – $1 per contact. Other people then bought that contact information.
Even if you found out about Jigsaw there was no way to get the information removed. Hand out your business card to the wrong person and you could suddenly find yourself in vendor cold call hell.
From my original post: “Jigsaw makes money while pushing costs to other people…[by] making private contact information public. The problem here is that Jigsaw’s actions aren’t easily found out by people getting constant cold calls and emails – it’s very unlikely they’ll know that these people got this contact information at Jigsaw in the first place.”
Jigsaw has changed its model since 2006. People can now see if their personal information has been uploaded, and there is a process to have it removed, at least temporarily. And users are no longer paid cash to upload contacts. Instead they receive points that can be used to download contact other people’s contact information.
Fast forward to today. Jigsaw continues to thrive, because there are lots of people out there who desperately want contact information for sales and business development purposes. Revenue is rumored to be around $30 million/ year.
Is Jigsaw still evil?
The company softened its approach to data by removing the cash incentive and giving people a way to remove data. But more importantly, the world has changed a lot since 2006. Facebook has been the catalyst for much of the change.
Back in 2006 people still had a notion of privacy online, particularly around contact information. Today those walls are crumbling. People share information today without blinking that they never would have considered sharing in the past. Things that bother us today probably won’t matter much this time next year.
But while sites like Facebook encourage us to share personal information with the whole world, and services like Loopt, Gowalla and Foursquare get us to voluntarily share even our location publicly, at least users still have a choice; it’s their decision. And most people still don’t want to give up their privacy.
Jigsaw doesn’t give people that choice. And they’re sharing contact information, giving people direct access to your email and phone number. As I said nearly four years ago, that pushes the costs of their business, which is people having to deal with unwanted contact from vendors, to third parties.
We have to have control over the distribution of this information. As long as it’s legal (in the U.S. at least) there will be companies that disregard morality and pursue profits.
So for now, Jigsaw isn’t really evil. They’re just amoral. The first purpose of our government is to protect the rights of its people. Data privacy rights should really be no different than property rights.
Jigsaw can’t come and put up posters on my house advertising their service. The same logic suggests they shouldn’t be in the business of selling my contact information, either.
Since Jigsaw won’t get off my lawn, it’s time for the government to make them.