October 04, 2012

BAPI Debate Du jour: Public vs. Private


API’s are driving tremendous innovation. This isn’t news. The news, as it would be, comes in the daily twists and turns of that innovation as we rewrite the laws, rules and mores of social interaction, ownership and privacy, etched into design and use of APIs and API architecture. Why?

Privacy is a great example. At this week’s Business of APIs conference in San Francisco, online privacy weaved its way consistently across the stage. Key to this debate is the actual ownership of content, and the approaches API providers must take to stay current with prevailing belief, keep innovating with the communities of cloud and app developers, while staying ahead of the curve in both the business and IT of their own organization.

There are a few things in data and privacy we know are constant. Twitter content is public until you make it private. Facebook content is private in theory, though anyone who uses Facebook’s identity system to log onto third party websites quickly learns how public your activity can become. Consumers accept these things for their utility and ultimate cost.

The data world today is full of more things that are changing, though. Twitter may no longer be public. We’re beginning to see the increased frequency of financial institutions like Capital One, which are taking their long-standing tradition of innovations like individual APRs and the balance transfer, and taking more risks like creating more seamless and customized shopping experiences based completely on customer data. But not just any customer data, data customers themselves choose to share with Capital One. Data experts are beginning now to advise business strategy with their “manage or be scraped” attitude, and the ongoing construction of an understanding over who owns things like publicly indexed search results is being played out before our eyes right now.

Even the constants are subject to change. Take identity, for example. With the widespread use of identity schemes by dominant platforms like Facebook and Paypal, appeal is in the eye of the beholder for consumers, business and developers. New ideas are welcome.  Personal debuted their answer onstage at BAPI. Its a new personal data and life management platform that wants to put control entirely in the hands of consumers. Personal's platform offers data to consumers with the caveat that their data commitment is to the consumer. The argument goes like this: if you give consumers data vaults that are private and that they own and can use to store and share their data in granular ways, they will actually share more of it as long as they know what it’s being used for and can revoke permissions.

While the whole point of APIs is to fuel growth and productivity, it’s particularly important to properly navigate control over information in a business dominated by it. Being in a robust data eco-system is wonderful, but it works only when we get balanced access and control with security. Passing through all these emerging constructs like the sands of time, so is the data of our lives.