Borg Brother Wants to Profile You

bm towering at nightSo, linking tickets to IDs was too hard, because that would restrict farmers gifting.  However, if you want to buy tickets for Burning Man, you need to create a “Burner Profile“. Which means, if they don’t like you, they can shut you out forever. The World’s Biggest Guest List has now been taken to the ultimate extreme – no doubt a power trip for whoever fills the implied slot of The World’s Biggest Door Bitch.

Q: What’s a Burner Profile?

A: The Burner Profile stores information about you and your activities as a member of the Burning Man community, so that it can be used to streamline processes that require us to collect information from you as you do things and create projects for Burning Man.”

…or – “as you gift things to our party at your own expense, we want to remind you that you’re in our service and creating for our benefit, and we want to keep our eyes on you as much as we can. We have a lot of bureaucracy that you will need to engage with”. We’ll see if this new data structure facilitates interactions with the BMOrg’s endless string of questionnaires, surveys, censuses (censi?), forms, licenses, tickets and other inventions of the centralized governing apparatus in any way. Or if it’s just another bunch of red tape getting between us and our party in the desert. ‘Scuse me for being skeptical, but no-one has ever tried this before as far as I know. The answer to 1984 is 1776, nothing good comes from secrecy…

Is this truly the solution to the Lottery horrors of 2012? In the face of declining population numbers, does implementing a more detailed profiling of the community, lead to growth and education of our community, and the easing of red tape and rules? Does this really need to happen behind “black box” computer systems that don’t have a great track record of performance, but get to decide if the Burners ends up being allowed in to buy a ticket or rejected by a computer error?

I am reminded of Machiavelli’s strategy of the Black Prince:

the suit[spoiler alert!]

….where the king sends in a prince who is just terrible, all the people hate him, when the king kicks him out he’s seen as a hero and the new prince is welcomed as a savior, he gets to implement the original agenda of the king with the full support of the people. “Sure it’s bad, but it’s not as bad as what we had before, so we’re better off”.

“A: If you want to participate in one of our ticket sales, you must have a Burner Profile.”

Pretty goddamn clear. Rave-cial profiling?

“Over time, as we add more functionality to the system, you’ll be offered the opportunity to provide more information that will help facilitate your Burning Man activities that require you to provide us with information (project registration questionnaires and the like). The more you put into your profile, the more you’ll get out of the system, and the more we’ll know how to connect with you

Corporate speak. What does that even mean? “In the future, you will get more out of this, we don’t know what but we promise it will be something, just give us as much data as possible now”. The data will not be available to the Burner community, only the BMOrg and whoever they decide is on their team.

Burning Man has had clashes with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Burner community before, over their overly onerous legal stances on intellectual property and other intangible goods they claim to own: that is, your information, photos, videos, observations, and more. In this case, any data you put on the Burner profile, although it is not searchable on the Internet, can be published anywhere on the Burning Man site at their absolute discretion. I see nothing to suggest that it wouldn’t then be searchable there. Here’s the clause:

“whenever you submit expressive content to the Image Gallery, Playa Artifacts, Tales from the Playa, or ePlaya, you understand that the submission will be made public on the web site, and that such submission may contain personal information. We are not responsible for the personal information that you or others choose to post in this manner. You may be identified as the author of any posted expressive content unless you tell us otherwise.”

You should be aware of their recently updated privacy policy. I want to highlight two particular clauses in it:

We use the personal information that we receive to operate the web site, produce the Burning Man event, and for Burning Man-related projects. Your personal information may be stored on our system and shared among Burning Man affiliates, including but not limited to the Burning Man Project, Black Rock City, LLC, and Black Rock Arts Foundation. We do not rent, sell, or share your personal information with any other entity, except when:

  • We have your permission; or
  • We respond to subpoenas, court orders, or other legal process; or when we must exercise our legal rights, protect our property, defend against legal claims, or otherwise comply with the law; or
  • We believe it is appropriate in order to investigate, prevent, or take action regarding suspected illegal activities, fraud, threats to personal safety, or violation of this web site’s terms of use.

the definition of who is an “affiliate” or “what is a related project” of Burning Man is unclear, and unlimited. And in agreeing to this privacy policy, anyone in the BMOrg, or “affiliated” with them – presumably including volunteers – can look up any of your information and history, at any time. That’s a heck of a lot of trust we’re putting into them; why can’t they give us the trust back, and make Burner profiles available on the Internet to the whole community. If people don’t want to be associated with Burning Man, let them use their Burner Names, don’t force them to use real names when you’re saying you can’t link tickets to IDs.

Not only that, if ANYONE affiliated with the BMOrg suspects you of doing anything that is either a) illegal or b) against their web site policies, they can sell your data to anyone they want. That’s what this clause says.

The other clause that concerns me is this:

If Burning Man is acquired or transferred, or changes entity status, the personal information maintained on the Burning Man system will be among the transferred assets but will remain subject to any existing privacy policy.”

The definition of “who might take over Burning Man one day” is completely up in the air. “Changes entity status” is not exactly a crystal-clear legal expression, there is a lot of wiggle room in there. The government, the IRS, the ATF in a RICO investigation, Pershing County officials as part of a law suit settlement, Mexican cartels, Microsoft, religious freaks. It could be ANYONE. And “any” existing policies suggests that whoever ends up in control, if they have an existing privacy policy, your information will also be subject to that.

homer_jump_the_shark1If you’ve already registered for their ticket sales when they announced it, you’re SOL because you can’t create a Burner Profile and it’s not easy to change:

Q: Can I change my Username in my profile?
A: No. Your username is permanent. If you need to change your username, you will need to delete your account and create a new one with your desired username.

Q: Can I change my First Name, Last Name and/or Email Address in my profile?
A: These are very difficult to change, but it can be done if necessary … and we have to do it for you. If you absolutely must change your first name, last name or email address, use theContact Us form to request the change. (Legitimate reasons for changing your name include: you misspelled your name when you created your account, you got married, or you legallychanged your name to DJ SparklePants.)

Q: If I’m pre-registered for a ticket sale, then I delete my account and create a new one, will that kill my pre-registration for that ticket sale?
A: Yes. So if you’re currently pre-registered for a particular ticket sale, don’t do that. If you did it by accident, and you now realize you’re screwed, use the Contact Us form to let us know your plight as soon as possible.

At least whoever wrote this is honest to acknowledge that in implementing this policy change the way they have, they’re already led to many Burners being screwed. At the time of writing this post, it’s only 3 weeks old! This was announced on January 11 [sorry for the delay on this story – I blame the beaches of Los Cabos: ed]. Was this part of the game theory they spent so much time and effort on?

16 comments on “Borg Brother Wants to Profile You

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  7. we’re not selling any information. If you Like us on Facebook, you’re already on Facebook, and covered by whatever privacy settings you put on your facebook account (we recommend you check these periodically because Facebook changes them on you). Don’t put your phone number on facebook if you don’t want people to be able to find it, but don’t worry, Burners.Me ain’t gonna be ringing.
    We are not profiting from your data in any way, or indeed even using it. We’re just posting our thoughts and information we come across about Burning Man and Burner Culture, if people want to read and follow that’s great. We totally respect and appreciate our audience, thank you.

    • I never said you were selling information personally, but by linking your site to these services, you are clearly complicit in that act; these data-warehousing services are using your site to gather pieces of information on burners, and use that information as part of marketing plans. You are knowingly instigating and providing the conduit that allows them to do so. That information is used to target advertisements to burners on other sites, and seems to directly contradict the principle of decommodification.

      Even if you don’t see yourself as directly making a profit from it, those entities are profiting from the information you help them get. This is far worse than what Burning Man is doing – you are supplying information about your blog readers to Facebook and Twitter, among others, and you don’t even know what they are doing with that information. Just to leave this comment, I had to log into something called “Gravatar” and create a profile. Remember, you started this by complaining about the Burning Profiles… I’m just pointing out the hypocrisy in your statements.

      If you make no profit and receive no benefit from giving this information to these services, why do you do it? Removing them wouldn’t detract from the articles on your blog. You could still post your thoughts and information on Burning Man and burner culture. People would still read it and would still follow your blog. They’d probably even appreciate it more because they wouldn’t see you as a corporate sell-out. I know I’d read it.

      Your original post made your views on corporate data gathering known, but now we get to see whether it was genuine or just contrarian lip service. If you were truly outraged, you should be willing to change yourself first.

      If you respect your audience as you say you do, you’ll eliminate the corporate data-gathering from your site. Drop that Facebook stuff… get rid of the Twitter account, kill the links to Google Plus, Digg and Reddit. Embrace decommodification and reject the nebulous entity.

      Practice what you preach. Remove the links to those services from BURNERS.ME, drop those accounts, and create a blog that doesn’t merely serve as a method of exploiting your readers.

      Consider this a challenge. Your readers await your next action.

      • NING.COM is just as bad as the others – their entire raison d’être is to gather information… just like Facebook. Check out their privacy policy at:

        http://www.ning.com/about/legal/privacy/

        I think you might be missing the overall point. You complain about Burning Man creating profiles, and your response isn’t to practice what you preach by removing your links to those services, it is merely to double down and create a website that gathers even more information from us, and becomes even more intrusive. While I respect that you appear to be taking action, taking the wrong action is even worse.

        What are your motives here? I’m finding it hard to believe that anyone even reasonably tech-savvy can’t see the problem with what you are setting up.

        Again, the answer to the problem is simple. Don’t try to create a data gathering online community on a third party service whose aim is to gather information, simply strip the information gathering components off your current blog and set out to do what you’ve already stated is your overall goal – to post your thoughts and information about Burning Man and burner culture. Simple as that.

        You’ve got the power to do this, and the steps you need to take to do so are right in front of you. Go ahead and do it!

      • I have sold companies to corporations before, so I do not deny the charge of selling out. But , selling out Burning Man? I’d argue that this blog is more true to the original values than the current $40 million mainstream data sucking extravaganza

      • I am not trying to deny BMOrg, or anyone else, the right to free speech. It is 2013, people volunteer their information on the Internet these days. Get with the times, Polaris – you sound like a nuclear missile from the 1980’s. We live in a different age.
        The difference between Burners.Me and BurningMan.com, is we are not trying to make a profit, and we are not claiming to own copyright over your information. You write a lot of words, but you yourself are missing the obvious point. People share their comments here freely, they Like this page and Share it if there’s something in the story that their friends might be interested in. If they use Facebook, they’re already comfortable with it – just like 1 billion+ people a month are.

      • I might be a little old and out of touch, but I think I’m relatively tech savvy. There should be a place on the Internet where the community of Burners – including people lucky enough to be profiled enough to win tickets to Burning Man – can share photos, videos, and stories – freely, under the widely accepted Creative Commons License. Which means the community owns the data and can freely share it, with authorship and ultimate copyright ownership fairly attributed. We’re not taking anything over in any way, and I can’t imagine the EFF will be openly criticizing Burners.Me for this stance any time soon.
        If burners.ning.com is not a great way to do this, then I am completely open to suggestions and help from the Burner community about what would be better. I have other stuff to do in my life than this blog, but today I saw the need for the community to have this. In my opinion the BMOrg is going in totally the wrong direction with their policies, the hypocrisy is coming from them not us.
        Burners, help us out, we need alpha testers for this emerging concept – literally hours old. Let’s see if we can use the power of crowdsourcing to get enough content at http://burners.ning.com to be useful. Music, photos, videos, stories, tips, ideas…whatever you got.BMOrg wants you to have a voice that they own, we want you to have a voice that can be shared freely with everyone.

        There have been so many Kickstarter projects this year it has been hard to keep track of them all. Let’s make this an open to everyone forum, a place where anyone can promote their Burner related projects, ideas, and businesses… and face the music of the community’s free speech in discussing them.

        To me this is the power of social networking to make the world a better place. Open Source vs Patent Trolls.

        Post to come.

      • Polaris, it’s more than a challenge for just Burners.me

        It’s right bloody conundrum for any bastion of online privacy.

        Just removing links to these other services does make sense because of their policies and what do they with data from just having a button on your site, but the reality is that as a publisher you want to get your story out there, others want to spread your story because they like what you write, so then these buttons are almost a requirement on a blog.

        Is it having links to any social media sites or just the ones with draconian policies?

        For example, haven’t yet heard anything that Reddit is doing anything from with data.

  8. Reading this post, I couldn’t help but notice that the right side of BURNERS.ME invites people to ‘like’ their Facebook page, which is immediately going to track more information about each person than Burning Man collects through the Burner Profile in the first place. BURNERS.ME also maintains and encourages us to subscribe to their Twitter account, giving Twitter even more information about our friends and interests. Finally, BURNERS.ME even encourages us to leave a comment on this page by logging in with our Facebook or Twitter accounts, tracking our individual views and comments on third party websites and then making those searchable and linkable into the data that Facebook and Twitter gather.

    What does BURNERS.ME think Twitter and FaceBook do with the information BURNERS.ME is complicity helping them gather, anyway? Facebook compiles profile information about their users and sells it to whomever is willing to pay for it. Twitter does the same thing, essentially. BURNERS.ME is actively helping them by linking not only our interest in Burning Man to these overall profiles (where it is tied to our names, addresses, phone numbers, and other interests), but also allowing FaceBook and Twitter to parse comments made on websites like BURNERS.ME to gather even more personal information. Is it limited to Facebook and Twitter? No… look a little above this comment – you’ll see links for LinkedIn, Pinterist, Reddit, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Digg and Google+.

    BURNERS.ME has become, and has sold it’s burner soul to the “nebulous entity” Larry prophesied in 1998 – an alien creature that gathers and thrives on information without understanding it. Only now, the nebulous entity understands that it can sell that information on the open market.

    If BURNERS.ME really wants to practice what they preach, perhaps they should delete their Facebook and Twitter accounts, remove the links that gather and collect information about our friends and preferences, and go back to being a simple blog about burners.

    Until BURNERS.ME does that, they are just being hypocrites.

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