WayIn and your privacy: Less than zero?

Scott McNealy is back with a new social sharing site designed to sell your likes and dislikes to advertisers. Get over that, if you can.

He’s baa-a-ack.

Scott McNealy that is. The co-founder and former CEO of Sun Microsystems has started up a new social media network/smartphone app called WayIn. (As in "weigh in” – get it?) McNealy is also known as the guy who in 1999 famously said, “You have zero privacy anyway – get over it.”

That makes the debut of WayIn – which launched quietly last spring but had its official coming out party this week – all the more intriguing.

WayIn is a “game” that lets you upload photos and conduct brief polls of other WayInners from your smart phone, tablet, or PC. Post a picture of, say, Charlie Sheen, ask a question (“Would you vote for this man?”), offer up to four answers for people to pick from, and share it with your friends. And that’s it. Wam bam thank you mam.

[img_assist|nid=211353|title=Charlie Sheen for president? WayIn may be the only place you can vote for that.|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=426|height=464]

WayIn is both stupid and stupidly addictive. It’s fun to post photos and ask obnoxious questions and/or leave silly comments on other people’s polls. You’ll even earn points based on how active you are, which you may get to cash in at some future date for actual prizes.

But WayIn is really a data hoover disguised as a game, offering advertisers a quick-n-easy way to do real-time market surveys.

Do you prefer New Coke or Old Coke? Which color car do you like to buy? How much would you be willing to spend on a new computer? Would you consider Ron Paul an attractive vice presidential candidate? Does this dress make me look fat? OK, maybe not that last one. But you get the general idea.

In fact, WayIn is designed to be used in conjunction with media events like baseball games or TV shows. The idea is that as people watch the shows, broadcasters or advertisers can post polls and gather information about their shows and products.

GigaOm’s Ryan Lawler lays out McNealy’s business model:

While the app is being offered to consumers, the real customers here are marketers, brands and Fortune 500 companies to which WayIn will be able to provide invaluable sentiment data. What McNealy & Co. is actually selling is big data about consumer interests. So far, the pitch is resonating: WayIn is launching with partners like the Republican National Convention, the NHL’s L.A. Kings and Playboy.

Which would explain why McNealy’s own WayIn polls lean heavily toward Republican presidential candidates and professional sports. (No Playboy-oriented ones – yet.) But as WayIn gathers information about Mitt Romney and NHL hockey, it’s also gathering information about you.

Though you don’t have to hand over your real name in order to use the service, you are anything but anonymous to WayIn. First, of course, you need to provide a real email address to verify your account - and for WayIn to send you promotional emails. WayIn’s privacy policy says you can opt out of receiving those, but as of this writing I can find no way to do so.

Connect it to Facebook or Twitter, and WayIn can access any info you’ve made accessible to any other apps – like your interests, groups and friends lists -- then combine that with information you’ve provided directly to WayIn. Use it with your smart phone or tablet, and it has your unique device ID and/or your phone number, as well as your IP address.

Information doesn’t get much more personally identifiable than that. However, WayIn’s privacy policy does state that it is “not in the business of selling your personally identifiable information.” Maybe it will stay that way, in which case it’s just another pointless way to waste your time. Or maybe WayIn will change its business model and/or get acquired, in which case your data may be worth some coin.

In any case, WayIn is more than just a game. It’s serious business. Especially when it’s run by someone who believes your privacy is already dead.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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