06 March 2012

Don't Ask, Just Tell

There's something terribly disappointing about a new tendency to bet on apathy.

Last week, Google (and its alarming array of subsidiaries) consolidated its many privacy policies and announced its intention to begin collecting information from the internet usage habits of its service users in order to tailor marketing to their habits and interests. I might see this as helpful and timesaving if it were not for the fact that these preferences also shape information searches and the like (two people with different browsing histories searching the same terms on Google will end up with different results).

The way out is to wade through the various menus to get to the place where you can turn off the retention of your history. Most people won't do that, so apathy wins for Google.

A similar story is unfolding here on the electronic health records front. Québec is instituting a system of electronic health records which will eventually enable a defined list of health care providers to access records that include prescriptions filled in pharmacies, diagnostic tests and scans. This can be a useful tool, especially for those who might arrive unconscious at the emergency room, but the approach to instituting this is following the same sad path of counting on our short attention spans and inertia.

'Signing up' for this new system is presumed: you have to take action if you don't want to have a file opened in your name. On top of that, the information about withdrawing from the system was sent out in a rather nondescript brown envelope, one per household. This could have been easily missed by an individual living alone. Live with others? Your roommate or family member might have discarded it for you. Your inaction will ensure that the system is broadly applied.

For all the criticism that Facebook gets each time it changes formats, it often starts with a period where the choice is offered. Early adopters choose the new format a few weeks before it is imposed on the rest of the users. Not perfect, for sure, but not putting all the chips on the inaction square either.

I understand that counting on people to take action in order to make your product or service work or sell would be difficult, if not impossible. The growing trend to reinforce our inaction by imposing changes and making action to counter them more difficult than just going along with them is doing nothing to snap us out of our collective torpor.

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