With the recent revelation that the ACA (Affordable Care Act or ObamaCare) website shared confidential information from folks applying for health insurance, consumers are questioning the privacy (or lack of privacy) online. Is it time for businesses and consumers to rethink online privacy?
Privacy is an important factor allowing us to live in communities. Even in the most primitive societies recognize members need a space to “be themselves” and act without worrying about judgement. In digital societies, we often equate PRIVACY with SECURITY — fearing that criminals will steal our identity, begin stalking, or gain access using information they discover about us online.
As consumers, we like to think that what we do online is private. If we don’t give out our credit card, don’t use email, and avoid social media platform, we believe we’re safe. But, digital space is anything BUT private. And, there’s little you can do about it! Even if YOU decide to avoid the internet, your information still moves along the information highway.
Your bank posts your transaction information and, even if you NEVER access it, it’s still there.
Health records move from your Dr to one of 3-4 websites operated to process medical insurance claims. Even if you DON’T sign up for insurance online, this information is available to hackers.
Your employer probably maintains all records related to your employment, including your social security number, address, and other sensitive information online to make it easy for multiple units to access this information.
Plus, is it REALLY feasible for you to totally avoid using digital processes, like email?
Should you rethink online privacy?
As a consumer, don’t become complacent just because there are so many impressions of YOU out there on other websites. Most organizations offer pretty good security to protect this information. There are still things you CAN do to protect your online privacy.
- Beware what you post online and don’t give others permission to film you. I warn folks they shouldn’t put anything up on Facebook or Twitter that they’re not willing to post on a billboard in the center of town. Even if you have maximum privacy settings, friends may share your posts and images on their insecure newsfeed. And, erasing doesn’t work. Once something’s been posted online, its digital footprint remains FOREVER. The same is true for images — even on mobile devices. NEVER let anyone photograph you in less than ideal conditions. The lover who fawns on your provocative picture is the same one who’ll post it in a public space when you break up.
- Only use websites you’re familiar with. If a site looks kinda shaky, don’t give them information. Erase cookies often (although you’ll then lose the convenience of remembered passwords and website history). Don’t give anyone your email address unless you’re confident they’re legitimate.
- If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t fall prey to folks sending email deals or unsolicited offers.
Should businesses rethink online privacy?
1. Unsolicited emails
Despite recent changes enacted via CanSpam legislation, too many businesses still send unsolicited emails. And, these unsolicited emails are largely ineffective because you’re sending them to folks who aren’t in your target market.
Instead, ensure folks you’re adding to your email list really want your content. Most reputable email marketing firms won’t let you add these folks in the first place and require a double opt-in for subscribers (which I agree might be a little bit of overkill). Don’t just assume folks who signed up for your presentation want you to contact them again. If you offer something like an ebook or white paper to entice subscriptions, make sure they’re valuable. Hubspot does this so much it makes me question their sincerity and ability. They offer something that sounds really valuable and it’s only after you give up your email address that you find the material is totally useless.
While getting unsolicited emails is annoying, it’s not really dangerous and is not truly an invasion of your privacy. The problem comes when the data collected isn’t protected properly. Firms need to do a better job protecting this data both within and outside the firm.
2. Protect sensitive data
Customer/ patient data deserves more protection. Consider assigning numbers so that individual data isn’t easily tracked back to the customer/ patient if it falls into the wrong hands. Separate customer data from names so multiple files must be stolen or lost to compromise information.
Plus, make protecting data your #1 job. I recently had all my credit information stolen from my subscription to the Adobe cloud. Frankly, I expect more from a company with those resources.
3. Illegal search and seizure
The federal government needs to start respecting the constitution and stop spying on citizens. I recognize that the intention is to stop terrorists, but there has to be a better way than subjecting Americans to illegal search. I’m sure they can find a judge willing to give them the access they desire legally. Besides, who’s to say your neighbor can’t steal data from NSA and other agencies. It only takes 1 unscrupulous worker or careless slip and VERY private information is now public. Just think what might have happened had Snowdon shared personal data with the press rather than material embarrassing to the US?