Seems like privacy gets more scarce every year — especially online. Google tracks your email content to serve up marketing suggestions while selling the data to other marketers, the US government hacks into iPhones to extract your data, every move you make is recorded and potentially shared, and these are just a few examples of the erosion of personal privacy.
And, the law lags.
For instance, the government used a law from 1789 called the All Writs Act (remind me again which part of the internet existed in 1789) to order Apple to break encryption on its iPhone. Not only doesn’t the law specifically apply to digital information, duh, but judges don’t understand technology to the point where they can effectively render opinion upon which to sign warrants.
Privacy, convenience, and marketing
Meanwhile, the internet gets stalkier every year.
Yesterday, I attended a day-long event sponsored by Salesforce and, while I love their tech, they’re leading the commercial charge on stalking customers. They even went so far as to hand out RFID chips to track where attendees went and scanned QR codes on our badges so they could market to attendees of particular sessions. I’m not big on personal privacy, but that went a little far even for me. Totally creepy.
And the IoT (internet of things) presents an even great opportunity for businesses to track private movements and behaviors in a way that really ups the game on stalking.
Balancing privacy and convenience
The main reason why I’m not a raving privacy advocate is because I recognize the convenience offered by sharing information with businesses.
We tend to think in black and white.
Businesses and advertising — bad (black)
Privacy — good (white)
But, that’s just not the case. Sharing private information makes our lives easier. For instance, cookies make it easier for us to surf the web without having to re-enter information at every turn.
Providing information to businesses allows them to provide appropriate information and advertising. Let’s say a company has a new product that solves a problem you have. Advertising lets you know about this great solution and that’s a value, not a burden.
Also, recognize that you’re going to see advertising. That’s the way Facebook or a TV channel pays the bills. No advertising, no entertainment or paid entertainment. Wouldn’t you prefer advertising for products you might want to buy versus advertising for something you couldn’t use. Remember the old days where women were deluged with ads for penis enlargement? That’s what you get when ads aren’t targeted to the needs of the recipient. Personally, I’d rather see ads for products I might need.
I love Facebook. I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but, if advertising is the cost I incur for using Facebook, so be it. Which reminds me, I saw something last week in The Motley Fool about users paying to post on Facebook — BTW, this is satire. Would you be willing to pay? Of course not, so advertising keeps it free.
So, sometimes we’re willing to trade privacy for convenience. Obviously, not everyone is willing to make the trade. My boyfriend refuses to use Facebook, even in a private mode. To each his own. My Facebook is totally open, but I’m selective in what I share there. I guard my own privacy by not sharing everything. A good rule of thumb is to only post what you’d be comfortable posting in a billboard on Main Street — something a would-be NFL draft pick learned the hard way when he posted an image of himself using a bong on Twitter.
Privacy and marketing
Businesses need to understand the trade-off between privacy and convenience. It’s a value exchange.
One of the sessions I attended yesterday was for Pardot. Again, I love their tech, but the example they used points out failures of marketers understanding the value exchange necessary to obtain private information.
In their example, a user supplied private information (name, address, etc). This allows the company to associate an IP address with a real person, then track their movements. With Amazon, I’m more than willing to sacrifice privacy in exchange for suggestions on products I might like or ease in ordering — I don’t have to reenter my personal information every time I place an order.
But, the example used by Pardot was buying socks online. Bleh, I’m not interested in providing information in exchange. If I’m a business customer who routinely buys socks to stock my store, I’m happy to provide information as part of building a relationship with the supplier.
The lesson here is to make the exchange and even one. Provide sufficient value in exchange for personal information. I’m not going to register on your site for nothing and, if you limit my use because I don’t want to register, you’re likely losing customers.
Wow, the IoT makes the issue of privacy really important.
Now, instead of sharing my online history or pics of my cat with the world, I’m now sharing totally private information including when I’m home, what programs I watch, where I am, how many Twinkies I go through in a week, how many people live in my home, etc. We’re talking truly intimate information without an off-switch allowing some self-censoring of information shared.
That smartwatch or FitBit, transmits information that others can use. In fact, recent information shows the potential for hacking into Waze, a popular mapping service using crowdsharing to improve performance.
Yesterday, I learned how smart my decision to NOT subscribe to OnStar really was. For a minimum of about $20, not only do I get diagnostics on my car and remote unlocking services, I get ads served right through my phone or guidance system.
Here’s how it works. Let’s say I am routing to a sporting event or Grandma’s house. Companies plan campaigns to reach me with targeted ads. So, I might get a parking ad on my way to a sporting event or an ad for a coffee shop near Grandma’s house.
Some folks might enjoy this and find it helpful. I really don’t want the distraction when I’m driving — heck the roads around DC are dangerous enough without drivers seeing ads along the route. (Waze does the same thing, which is one of the reasons I don’t use it). While I accept advertising as a fact of life, I really don’t want to see it while I’m driving.
Think about the other options for businesses offered by IoT. Now, folks know when you’re home because you set you NEST device to adjust the temperature before you arrive home. Telemarketers can now optimize their chances of calling while you’re relaxing after a long day. Businesses know what time you eat dinner or what day you did laundry because they can track use of these smart devices.
Key take-away — use consumer information judiciously.
A more serious concern with all this storing of private information is the lack of security for many databases. Sure, nothing is really going to stop someone with skill determined to break in, but many firms don’t even make it very challenging to get access to someone’s personal information.
Before businesses gather more private information to help them market to customers, they need to beef up security for their devices and databases. They also need to have policies and procedures that stop employees with legitimate access to customer information from sharing that information by accident or for personal gain.
It’s time for the law and business practices to catch up with Web 2.0, because Web 3.0 is here.
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