Privacy Expectations of Users, Sort of

I ran across an article in the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blog that had me sit up in my chair.  A magistrate judge declared that users don’t have a privacy expectation for location data if they leave their cell phone on.  Quite interesting scholarship and I wondered if there was anything to be learned for brands.  Unfortunately not, as the case was all about law enforcement.  But location privacy is one of the topics that is extremely relevant to SoLoMo, so let’s talk some about the case and then location privacy in general.

No Blank Check for Brands

Judge Brown in his decision cited the “ubiquity and celebrity of geolocation technologies,” and weaved in a discussion about the infamous “Girls Around Me” app.  Have I pointed out that the search for the location information was made with a warrant and all Judge Brown was asked to rule on was whether the warrant was properly issued.  His 30 page opinion is basically a diversion of legal scholarship that gets it wrong.

Some of you out there may read that and think that it is open season on location tracking.  It is not.  What works for law enforcement doesn’t work for you.  Even though Judge Brown says there is no expectation of privacy if you leave your cell phone on, he is talking about the police.  For brands, don’t rely on Judge Brown’s needless legal scholarship.

Back to Basics

So let’s go back to basic foundations regarding privacy, brands and the users who like them.  Only take the information you need, tell the user why you need it, and then when you use it, tell the user again how you used it.  If you are going to sell the information to other companies, you need to tell them that as well.  Avoid surprises and users will be ok.

Is Privacy Dead?

A recent study by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future reveals new views about privacy on social media and a willingness to cooperate online with businesses.  Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center, says that “online privacy is dead,” I don’t agree with that.  To be fair he goes on to say something that I do agree with – “Millenials recognize that giving up some of their privacy online can provide benefits to them.”  Where I think the disconnect with millenials, and quite frankly most users, is that they undervalue their privacy and exchange it at a discount.

The USC study allegedly reveals a “millienial rift” between those 18-34 and their older counterparts.  While I think the age breakdown is useful to a point, I think that one of the points in the study hold for the larger group:

  • “Greater receptivity to targeted advertising when their personal information is involved.”  I think all age groups are more receptive to individualized marketing if it is done responsibly without crossing that creepy line.

Since Location is one-third of SoLoMo by definition, the exchange that you make with your users for that information is quite important, unless you plan on relying on them coming to you without any outbound campaigns.  Make a proper value exchange and you will attract valuable customers.  And don’t pay attention to the legal meanderings of a judge who may not even have ever used a smart phone.

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