Data and Privacy: Can’t We All Get Along?
Are consumer attitudes and behavior in conflict when it comes to privacy, data collection and advertising?
Do consumers say one thing — but regularly do something else? If so, what does this say about privacy practices in our field — and our vigilant need to be transparent, giving the consumer some control over how data is collected and what for?
These questions presented themselves this week in several news stories. First, Apple CEO Tim Cook took a swipe at data collection, where he made general comments bemoaning the practices of other unnamed Silicon Valley tech companies. Reports on his speech are detailed here and here — and a fascinating retort to Cook is published in Business Insider.
Second, The New York Times connected Cook’s comments to new research from the Annenberg School of Communications, which appears to categorize consumer distaste for data collection by advertisers, and eschewing the value of “so-called” free email, social media, games and other services and entertainment they get in exchange for such data collection. Reportedly, consumers are “resigned” to the fact that data is collected about them – but bemoan this has to happen in order to get something for nothing. Many feel they’ve lost all control about data collection and usage about themselves in this exchange.
On the other side, Business Insider writer Jay Yarow points out that more than 1 billion people worldwide have joined Facebook and opened Google accounts, two examples of businesses that use data to improve the customer experience – and two among hundreds that enable more relevant advertising content through data collection. [Disclaimer: My full-time gig is with the Digital Advertising Alliance, a self-regulatory program that seeks to balance consumer privacy online with advertising innovation.] Apple, the author warns, had better start paying attention to careful use of consumer data if it wants to maintain a competitive edge.
“The future of computing will rely on careful collection of data from users.” Well said!
But just because billions of people use free digital services, and will continue to do so in exchange for data collection, doesn’t mean businesses get a free pass on how they use that data. Ethics and self-regulatory programs truly lay out the privacy rules of the road – but the invisible hand of the market has a role, too,
Which leads me to a third story: PayPal may have corrected itself after a potential privacy misstep this week. We all know those sometimes lengthy terms and conditions we’re asked to accept every time we download an update to an app, or enable software on our computers. Well, PayPal reportedly included within its terms and conditions a statement where the company would allow itself the right to robo-call and robo-text user telephone accounts, even for surveys and promotions, without enabling a consumer opt-out. Astute readers of those conditions prompted a social outrage – and the company quickly announced it would implement an opt-out choice, perhaps in time to minimize any brand damage.
All perspectives expressed in this column are more or less true: Smart, responsible data usage is encouraged and rewarded. At the same time, innovators need to be sensitive to privacy and annoyance concerns -- or face a backlash.