It's been a somewhat wild world for much of 2008 as we have seen problems surface in all aspects of our global economy. What happened, who's to blame, and more are questions that I'm not sure I have to answer to. In any case, I'm not ready to look back yet, and I think we have to move forward from where we are.
I was scanning the news recently and ran across an article on Thrive, a new financial web site that's designed to help people manage their finances better and learn where they can budget better. There's also another site called Mint, which is more for investments. In both cases, my guess is that the founders and employees are trying to do a good thing; they're trying to bring high quality advice, which most people can't afford or don't seek out, to the average person.
I like the idea and this is a great example of the power of the Internet. Twenty years ago, or even ten, you couldn't get all the information about how to manage your finances or investments unless you spent a tremendous amount of time. Or you had enough money to pay someone to give you the advice. Quicken has some of this built into it, but it's mostly tracking, requiring you to do the analysis.
The problem with this service, which I think is a good idea, is that it requires you to enter lots of personal data that this company then holds. Even if you didn't use your real name with the finances, who knows how easily someone could match up your email with the rest of your life. That's a little disconcerting, but Thrive actually wants you to put in personal data so they'll pull your credit report, debt, etc. from banks and other institutions.
The article from Cnet had the reporter ask the CEO: "And we're supposed to trust you?" His response?
"I know just how complex finances are. And what's done for people who have more money is vastly more beneficial to them than what's offered to people without a lot. It shouldn't be that hard to do, there just haven't been companies that wanted to do it."
The problem, in my mind, is that even if they have the best of intentions now, what happens if they can't get enough revenue? Will they sell some of the analysis to raise money? What happens if they go out of business? The IP will definitely be up for sale, but what about the data?
Data is valuable, and while it makes some sense for companies to be able to sell it, I don't think it's fair for consumers that the terms under which we surrendered the data might change or that it can be moved on to another company. While regulations tend to cause problems, perhaps this is one place where more data protections should be enacted. I think having companies lose a source of revenue might not be a bad thing if it better protects our data.
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