From an IP attorney’s point of view, Attention is interesting because it is an attempt to create a new property right in the aggregate of data. It’s different from other forms of property that currently can be protected. Patents cover inventions and business methods. Copyright covers original works of authorship, like books and software (yet software can also be covered by patents, too.) Trademarks covers symbols used in commerce, like the golden arches that serve as a trademark for McDonalds. Trade secrets are another regime, it covers any information so long as it is kept reasonably secret and it provides economic advantage to the one possessing it. A good example of a trade secret is the Coca Cola formula.
Attention, unlike trade secrets, is public information. It’s the aggregate of your interactions with third parties like shopping sites. The current state of affairs is that the shopping sites, with Amazon as the best example, are collecting this data for their own commercial advantage. While you might appreciate seeing what others who bought a book also bought, it’s really in Amazon’s interest since they are more likely to get an additional sale out of the deal.
A related right is the so-called “right to privacy,” which is really a penumbra of rights put together by the Supreme Court. It’s complicated, but the short definition is that you have the right to be left alone in seclusion. Attention is different since it’s the aggregate of public activities. It’s what you have already exposed by interacting with third parties. You have just as much ability to keep track of what you do online as the shopping sites, but you can’t fault the sites for using the data for their own benefit. Attention Trust wants us, as consumers, to be able to control this information that’s been collected, to put the genie back in the bottle.
Attention Trust wants us, as consumers, to refuse to release our information (i.e. don’t do business with them) except with companies that also support the principles of the Attention Trust. That’s great if the big sites sign on, but there is nothing forcing these sites to agree to voluntarily release the information they’ve gathered about you or to agree to no longer use it once you’ve told them not to. Grass roots campaigns are a great way to test the waters, but to really take off some sort of enacting legislation is going to be needed here. Gillmor admits that point in his response to Dare.
I like the concept of Attention, and will be covering this as it develops further. First, I want to see how many shopping sites Attention Trust can get to join, that’s going to be the first litmus test. For now, the word is spreading among users through the power of blogs.