Know Thyself: Myware vs. Spyware

My latest InformationWeek column just went live: "Don't Let Self-Improvement Tools Be Used Against You" looks at "myware" tools that help you keep in control of your life and compares them to spyware tools used to give others control over your life:

Our computers are full of small pieces of "myware" — software that spies on you for your own benefit, helping you to know yourself better. Your browser's History file autocompletes the URLs you type into the location bar; the search box remembers your previous searches. The recent-documents list in your word processor, your email program's capacity to remember the people you've emailed before — all little bits of useful mental prosthesis, external systems that help you keep track of what you do, so that you can do it better.

But "Know Thyself" has an ugly, sinister cousin: "Know Thy Neighbor." This is the curtain-twitching philosophy that drives us to spy on the people around us (sometimes at the behest of the government, who appear to have learned nothing from failed snitch states like East Germany). It's the folly that drives merchants, bosses and governments to watch us through a million CCTV cameras, track us through spyware that keeps track of what we install on our PCs, follow us around the Web with beacons, count our keystrokes, and log our library books.