The Digital Economy's Privacy Problem

Mitch JoelPosted by

What do these Internet-based businesses know about us?

Digital channels are both inherently social (we can share, connect and create content) and personal (they offer us free email and messaging services, or the ability to purchase products that we may not want the rest of the world to know that we’re buying). With that, it’s hard to argue that the data that is being collected is not only powerful, but if you add in the machine learning and algorithms of these multi-billion dollar platforms, they are able to create a hyper-personalized profile on all of – as individuals (which includes our family, friends and more). The implications of this data gathering (from simple things like browser history to more semantic captures like the tone of our words on social media platforms) can have massive implications on how employable we are, the type of insurance we’re eligible for, and more. Plus, who are these companies sharing this information with? It’s clear that data is the new oil, but many of us have no idea where the drilling is taking place and how it is then distributed. In short, consumers have lost control of their own data. Without even knowing it.

Is that fair? Is it just?

For years, my position has been (and continues to be), that this information is the cost/fee that we pay to enjoy all of these free services (whether we like it or not). That if it’s not evident on these digital channels what the product is, then we – the individuals – are the product. That relinquishing our usage patterns and information is part of the social contract that we engage in when we join these free platforms. And, ultimately, that we can’t rely on these platforms to get better (through their own desire or through legislation), but that we – as a society – must better understand what it means to live in a world where we’re all a media channel, and better learn how we control, manage and publish content to best design our own lives. We need to define what privacy means to us, and not rely on someone else to do it for us.

The death of privacy?

Tonight, I appeared on The Agenda with Steve Paikin to debate these topics and more. As the sole voice of business, marketing and the commercial side of the Internet on this panel conversation, I was up against two academics and a lawyer. We discussed just how much social media has become a part of our lives, and the concern about what these companies are doing with all of our information, and how they are sharing it. So, is privacy a thing of the past?

Here is the debate and I’d love your thoughts in the comments below: The Agenda With Steve Paikin – The Death of Privacy?