For the rest of this month we are going to take an in-depth look at a few facets of online privacy. Privacy, by dictionary definition, is the freedom from unauthorized intrusion. And we all know what unauthorised intrusion feels like, both personally and professionally. We’ve all experienced the crawly’ness of a close-talker at a cocktail party. And companies big and small go to great lengths to keep strategy, sales figures, financial statistics and R&D information from their competitors. When leaks happen, heads usually roll. Yet, as a community, we more or less live our lives on the Internet nowadays. In fact, smart phones — which are outselling desktop computers — have made ‘online’ so ubiquitous that the only time it truly registers is when we can’t get there. Throw in retina scans and full body X-rays, GPS and Google Earth, and one might wonder why the issue of online privacy is still, well, an issue.
When it comes to best practices around online privacy, it turns out Mom was right after all — common sense will keep us fairly insulated. Things like trading online databases or not providing for safe online transactions are generally bad. But should we ensure that every bit of online information remains private?
Cyber-footprinting was a fairly new and 1984’ish concern years ago, but it’s now common knowledge that you can’t swing a cat online without leaving bits and pieces of personal evidence behind. Offline companies ask for postal codes or phone numbers for those same bits of personal evidence. One postal code can reveal approximately 14,000 things about a consumer. And they use them for market research. Why should it be any different online? Call it the 21st century’s customer survey or census report.
You Told What To Whom..?
Speaking of marketing, social media opens a unique kettle of fish. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites are inherently non-private, their very conceit is the sharing and publishing of personal information. Yet they seem to be the root of more privacy concerns than anything else online. Companies are hammering out policies around social media engagement and networking in the workplace. What will you allow and not allow your company’s social networking ‘voice’ to do and say on your behalf? Do you understand the privacy concerns your customers have regarding social media?
Who was that masked man?
There’s another angle to the issue of online privacy: That what is really wanted is not privacy at all. It’s security. Businesses need to provide secure online shopping avenues and never give out a phone number or address. Customers don’t want to be cyber-tracked. Are the lines between privacy and security blurred? People who track online fraud and cyber crime suggest that too much privacy might not be a good thing, that online anonymity is a dangerous game.
Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt made this prediction about the future of information: “True transparency, and no anonymity.”
What do you think? Can too much privacy be a bad thing? Or is the opposite the real problem? Are corporations responsible for protecting consumers’ online privacy, or should personal responsibility come into play? How can you build trust with your online consumers so they’re willing to share themselves with you? How do privacy issues affect your organization, big or small? Or do they?
We’ll be discussing all these aspects of online privacy and more throughout the rest of February and offering up tips and suggestions for making sure your business and customers are as protected as they want and/or need to be. Have any specific online privacy subtopics you’d like us to tackle? Let us know in the comments!