Are Privacy Advocates the Don Quixotes of the Digital Age?

Are privacy advocates just the Don Quixote of the Information Age?

Are privacy advocates just the Don Quixote of the Information Age?

Your personal information is under a privacy assault every day, from yourself.  I have long-held that most people would give up a treasure trove of information if they got something valuable in return.  The key is what is that value.  A recent study by the Informations Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) highlighted by a PC World article show that my feelings don’t marry up with that, while there is a large percentage of their respondents would accept the trade-off.

I just wanted to point out some things in this survey that make me wonder who does these things (surveyors, I mean) as well as some thoughts about some of the other insights from it.  I actually read the survey that was linked and can not find any of the data that they cite in the article, though.  No matter, I have some thoughts, anyway.

Unsolicited text messages are too costly

Only half of the respondents, according to the survey, would find it invasive if a store sent them a text message with a special offer as they walked past the product.  Here is the problem.  Every one of those text messages they send out may carry with it a $2,500 price tag for the retailer.  Remember, remember the 16th of October, when the TCPA changed?  I doubt any of these people have given their unambiguous written consent to this text message.  For more thoughts on that, go read my post from August.

Remember what I also said about ways to get around this restriction.  If I have the Target app on my mobile, there is nothing wrong with Target sending a push notification to the app with just that information.  I wonder how such a process was presented to the consumer, but it is totally outside the restrictions of the TCPA.

Location based marketing in-stores not accepted by the majority

According to the article, most people aren’t that comfortable with in-the-moment deals (2/3, by my math skills).  This is an exploding area.  Even US senators are weighing into the fray and coming out with pronouncements and some self-regulation by the players.  Some of the players in the space have signed up for this code of conduct, but not all have.  There are also some issues with downstream data use as well, in my mind.

Other problems in the survey and the reporting

The article points out that half of respondents do not read privacy policies.  The actual percentage from ISACA is 43% and comes from the 2012 Geolocation Use and Concerns Survey.  It is even worse than reported in the PC World article as an additional 25% feel that the licenses and policies are not clear.  So that is a whopping 68% (over two-thirds) that don’t have any clear knowledge about what they just agreed to.

What I really love from the 2012 survey is that while 68% don’t have a clear understanding of what they are agreeing to, 54% think the risks and benefits are appropriately balanced.  How does that math work.  How does one make a proper balancing between risk and benefit when they don’t understand what they are agreeing to?

iBeacon to the rescue?

Generally I take a wait and see attitude with technology solutions to consumer problems.  However, I did point out in the run up to iOS7 that I think Apple has a solution that if implemented right puts more of this in the face of the consumer.  Putting notice in a non-bypassable modal puts the onus back on the user to understand what is going on.

The problem with most processes of agreement from the consumer is that the ball is always hidden.  The other day I pointed out that EA buries it’s privacy policy in a license agreement.  In that situation, I think that the percentage of users who bothered to read and then understand what they were giving up is firmly in the single digits.

I admit to being a bit Pollyanna about this thinking that I can make the user read these notices.  I think most users will just pass through without nary a thought.  But as a brand, I would fall back on the “you had to go through that window” if my data collection was challenged with regards to notice.

Focus on the users

I will always come back to my three-legged stool – value, notice and control.  Give good value for the information you collect; give the opportunity for the user to read and understand what they are agreeing to; and for downstream, or unintended uses, give the user some control over things they never agreed to.

My fear is that there is coming a time when there will be a paradigm shift in attitudes about things like this.  If consumers and advocacy groups don’t demand brands do the right thing now, we will give up the ability.  At some point in the future, the argument will be, “why do you care now, all your information is available to us anyway.  There is no more harm.”

I realize that privacy protection is a hard thing.  Most of us can not even agree what privacy as a concept really is.  Take off your hat as a brand and think like a consumer (or maybe try to think like someone in your family) and evaluate how they will receive what you are doing.  That is the only way to get this right.  If you do get it wrong, apologize like a human.

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