The Privacy Dilemma

By 3rd December 201528 Thoughts, Blogs

We are living in a world where our trust can only come from respect of citizen privacy (preceded with credibility, authenticity, consistency and positive interactions).

Many companies, Facebook being a current example at the time of writing, exist in an ongoing dilemma, which is something I get asked about often.

What it boils down to is this:

What if the most private information is the most valuable?

Do you:

A: Find even more subtle ways of getting it whilst keeping an increasingly suspicious public at bay?

Or:

B: Put citizens’ privacy under their own control in an honest and decent way?

If the answer is B, then people’s private information can only be gathered with their permission, which is therefore mandatory for understanding preference (which enables us to commercially communicate more effectively).

Elsewhere, a variety of tools enable you to run a diagnostic scan of your Facebook information to see what is secure and what is open to the public.

For some, the process is fairly simple and locking everything down to just ‘friends’ is do-able, however: do you absolutely trust everyone you ever added on Facebook to be so scrupulous with your information?

Do you know for sure that they won’t post a party picture elsewhere on the net?

We are simply scratching the surface of the Privacy Dilemma and as I have said many times, this is one of the main differentiators between the winning tools, platforms and channels in the future and the resources that get turned off en masse.

The multi-billion dollar valuation of Facebook looks seemingly indestructible but actually, their handling of the Privacy Dilemma leaves them, in my opinion, in a very fragile state.

There once was a site called ‘Your Open Book’ where one could scan all the public information that had been leaked by Facebook via a search engine. In this search engine you could enter anything from ‘my boss’ to ‘rectal exam’. All the results were actual, real information that was publicly available, until it got removed from the web.

Around that time there was a ‘Quit Facebook Day’ on May 31st 2010 but only 12,877 committed to quit.

Why such a low number? I think it’s a combination of:

  1. A lack of awareness amongst people about how their information is being used
  1. A lack of awareness of groups like the one featured above
  1. A lack of understanding about what could happen if your personal information is out in the open
  1. A lack of caring about the above

None of this moves me away from my view of how important this is and yes, I’m sure it’s in the early stages of public awareness. I predict it will grow to be on the main agenda.

I’m not pushing for the closure of Facebook but whilst I have breath in my body I will campaign for the right of citizens to be in control of their own private information. I believe it is a basic human right and is central to our identity.

If you are thinking of innovating in the social network space, my free advice to you would be to differentiate around the issue of privacy. If you can still make the business model work, you will ultimately be better placed than the giants of today. And as we can see, some of the giants are really bad at keeping information private: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/worlds-biggest-data-breaches-hacks/

The wider issue is how to change the behaviour of the other parts of a value chain, eagerly looking (and paying for) more and more personal information.

Ultimately, the dollars go where the people go; therefore it’s down to every single one of us to stand up for ourselves and change the industry from the outside.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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