It seems there are a few camps with regards to privacy out there. There is one camp that just throws up its hands and says privacy is dead, just get over it. There are also others that fight for every scrap of privacy we can eke out. Who is right? Both.
To start this off, go watch this video from TED about why privacy matters. If you normally skip over videos this is one you need to watch. The speaker is one of the researchers that worked on a project that was able to infer social security numbers with nothing more than a photo.
Research is really scary
The one thing that I got out of this is that what they are working on is really scary. What can be done with publicly available information connected with behavioral psychology is particularly troubling.
Alessandro posits a world where the actors in commercial videos are replaced with composites of our friends. Not with images of our friends but composites. We don’t note that this is someone I know. It is someone I inherently trust, but I don’t know why.
Light on the problem
Alessandro, in a much more effective way than I, exposes the fallacy that the new economy makes privacy obsolete. That we have been presented with a fait accompli. That by participating in this new world we have to give up our privacy to be there.
We have been slowly indoctrinated towards this end. Today we get so much for what we are giving up. We get to connect with our friends. We get to share our world with each other. We get targeted ads. We get contextualized marketing. We get so much for what little (we think) we give away.
The problem is not today. The problem is that our private information is a bit like Pandora’s box. Once out, we can’t bring it back. Once we lose control, we can never regain it.
The other problem is this feeling that the platforms, and brands think they know better than us about our information. That they can be trusted. How many times has a policy been implemented and turned on by default. Did you know that you can no longer hide yourself from a Facebook search?
While I have tried to extoll the benefits of brands putting themselves in the shoe of users when using data about them, I don’t think this is happening. Brands care about one thing, and one thing only. Their bottom line. They DO NOT CARE about you. If forced to choose between a disappointing quarterly result or gutting privacy of its users, which do you think a company would choose?
Why should we care?
Those in the privacy is already dead camp will cry out, “just get over it, that train has left the station.” I don’t think that is true. Information loses value over time, so at some point we can wrest that control back and slowly regain our control. Admittedly there has been an information exchange already.
We need to demand changes that make sense. Changes that make it possible for us to participate in this new economy on our terms. Changes that force platforms and brands to truly bake in privacy.
Regulations and laws are slowly catching up. Companies that crack this nut and do it right will be heralded. I would love to hear about a company trying to do it right.
What do I want?
I want a true implementation of my three legged stool of privacy.
NOTICE. Give me meaningful notice about what you are collecting, why you are collecting it and how it will be used, now and in the future. Don’t bury it in legalese so only another lawyer would understand it. Tell me in simple terms what I am getting myself into. If I don’t read it, that is on my head. If you write it so that I can’t understand it even after I read it, it is on yours.
CONTROL. Allow me to control the use of the data for downstream uses and for new uses. If you are selling my data, or transferring it, provide me some notice of that. This includes the combination of my data with other sources to create another data set that wouldn’t be controlled by the previous notice. If you combine my personal information with other information to make a new data set, I personally don’t think you have washed away privacy protection.
VALUE. If you give me good notice, I can make an informed choice about whether I want you to have my information. You need to give me good value for my information.
AND A SEAT. No stool is complete without a seat, so here is mine. DO NOT default me into something new when it comes to my information or my space. Some will cry that then there is no benefit to the new feature for the platform. There is the problem layed in stark contrast. If I don’t come into your new world, you don’t make any money off of me. What new feature did Facebook give me by taking my ability to remain hidden away? NONE.
Do what’s right folks, and think about the user
I know you have to make money. I know that you have shareholders, investors, and owners. I know all that. I get it.
Put the user in your cross-hairs and think about what you are asking them to do, or give up. Really think about them. If you can’t think like them, get somebody in who can voice the user’s opinion, without the pressure of product launch. Call that person your User Ombudsman. Let them sit in on the meetings and see what you are doing. Listen to them.
Your current bottom line may not get the full benefit you wanted, but over time, the trust you build up by doing the right thing will make up for it.