The Other Side Of Privacy

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You can’t throw a rock and not hit a concern about privacy and the use of our data online.

This is a huge concern because us Marketers have screwed it up so royally over the years. From a lack of permission and abuse to security breaches and scams. It’s so bad that government plays an active role in deciding what can and can’t be done (yes, lawmakers). Still, we keep botching it. From newer media initiatives (think Facebook Beacon) to cyber-attacks (see what Sony has been dealing with), not a week goes by that some sort of privacy breach or plans for a corporation to do something funky with consumer’s data isn’t in the news.

Your data is not your own.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you join an online social network or sign-up to an online service, its incumbent on you to review and understand the terms and conditions. Let’s assume – like 90% of the population – that even if you did read it, the legal intricacies are not clear and that you have no idea what you’re signing up for, then govern yourself by this: whatever they are giving to you to use for free is not free. You usage is being turned into data that the platform is going to use (in one way, shape or form). This will result in activities like targeting you with advertising or even leaking your usage to a third-party (like an advertiser or media company). So, if you’re not comfortable with your usage being tracked and your information being seen, it’s best to avoid these channels.

This will piss some people off.

There are many people who believe that whatever data and information you put into a platform (let’s say Facebook, for argument’s sake) should be yours and yours alone. These same people believe that Facebook’s true value is this data set and that the company should not be able to monetize it without our consent or without compensating us for it. Sorry, I’m not buying that. The payment is the service. When people sign-up, the free usage is not free. The fee we pay (for getting all of this cool, free stuff) is the pass-off of what we’re doing while we’re engaged in their channel. I don’t necessarily like this, but it is this way.

The other side of privacy.

Hypothetical question: would you be willing to pay a monthly service fee to use Facebook and – in doing so – this fee ensures that all of your data is your own? Facebook will never use any of your content without your consent. Do you think this is a viable business model? I don’t. I think the majority of people want Facebook to be free. I also see countless instances where people give out way too much data about themselves just to save a buck or two. The other side of privacy is knowing and understanding that whatever you put online is now in the public domain. The other side of privacy is knowing that you decide what you put into these channels and who you connect with. The truth is that you decide how much data you’re creating and your own level of privacy. Facebook doesn’t and Google doesn’t either.

You are the other side of privacy. 

  • You don’t have to use your full, real name (just let the people you are trying to connect to know your handle).
  • You can be connected to your spouse without identifying your connection in your info.
  • You don’t have to publish pictures of your children and family members.
  • You don’t have to update your status with every little life detail.

It makes things a little less fun.

OK, that’s harsh… it doesn’t have to be less fun, but you can throw the data vacuum and privacy snoops off by both omitting or changing minor pieces of information that make your experience both good for you and your connections, while at the same time keeping a semblance of privacy. The truth is this: until we have full data portability and until our avatars are our own, legal, possession, we have to assume that nothing we do as our digital selves is private or that the data won’t be used in some way.

Privacy and our data is ours… we just have have chose wiser how (and to who) we distribute it.


  1. My personally belief is “Why fight the current, just leave a small footprint.” The data is going to be shared one way or the other, anyone who really wants to find you is going to find you whether you have an avatar or not.

  2. Sorry, but I beg to differ. Our data are ours. when a company puts up service options such as sharing our pictures, it’s for us to use. Business models differ and data can be used without abusing personal data. Google gives a free service, and their business model is a 3rd part ad based model that does not exploit my personal data. When I google Paris and am offered hotel ads in Pris it capitalizes on the serach term but is oblivient to the user. At this point Google does not apply a contextual engine that minitors me the user across content interactions so if you ask about Bethoven you may refer to the composer wheras I may refer to the family movie about the dog – but Google won’t distinguish. Facebook that offers a personal data sharing serice, can create its business model on a transparent partnership with users, make them partners to the food chains created around their data and give them the tools, incentives and decision power if/to what extent and how they are rewarded for their data sharing. That is in sync with a user centered culture that makes everybody win

  3. You may want to dig deeper into contextual analytics and the true use of cookies, etc… I think the brands you mention know much more than you think – whether you see it ads or not at this point.

  4. I think an important distinction needs to be made here between “data” and intellectual property. I realize your article focuses mainly on privacy, but these issues are intrinsically connected to issues of copyright as well.
    You make the argument that we should not expect privacy online, that we sacrifice it in exchange for the use of services. For general data I’d be inclined to agree. You are putting the information out there for yourself, while you could in fact be completely anonymous if you truly wanted to. Information that has been shared online starts a life of its own and one cannot expect it to be contained to a single website.
    However (and this is key), there is a difference between “data” and intellectual property. I strongly disagree that Facebook should be able to monetize intellectual property like photos, videos or other content. There are people who argue that agreeing with ToS and other conditions warrants this type of use, but I disagree. These online “contracts” do not adhere to any kind of legal standard regarding the transfer of copyrights. If a dispute arises between a website and a user, then the burden of proof regarding acquisition of rights lies with the website. Under the Berne Convention the law will always favor the original creator when there is ambiguity, that creator is always assumed to have retained all rights. Copyright clauses in ToS are shady at best. A click on a webpage can only be traced to a location, not a person. An IP address is not an ID. Not to mention the fact that these website terms are not specific about which rights are (supposedly) acquired for certain types of media and can be changed willy-nilly without even informing users.
    With all this in mind I do have to wonder if you gave your use of the term “public domain” any thought. I honestly don’t think you are using it in the copyright sense (as your article focuses on privacy issues), but you should be aware that it carries legal connotations. It is not a term I would be using in this debate. If put into a legal context, the notion of “all online content is in the public domain” becomes extremely offensive.
    I agree that information about work, school, family, etc. cannot be expected to remain private once it is shared. However, when we move into the realm of intellectual property there are not only ethical, but legal questions as well. I feel that the law should step in here and govern which rights can or cannot be “acquired” online. Facebook needs intellectual property clauses in its ToS to allow you to use their website. That being said, I find it unreasonable (and even perverse) that it tries to claim a “transferable” license for content as well. Without a contract that bears a signature such claims will not hold up in court.

  5. I think you have the nail on the head there, it is scary sometimes when you realise just how much these brands actually know about you, not the fact that they may know anything at all about about you.

  6. I agree with Mitch here and was going to post this lower down in the comments, but it seems appropriate here. If you are not paying for use of something, you are not the customer. You are the product. If you don’t think it’s right that Facebook or any other medium should be allowed to sell some portion of your data, it is like Mitch says incumbent upon you to guard what data is shared or not.

  7. The other question is, does anyone really want all this data? We have an image of advertisers being extremely sophisticated and holding profiles for each of us — from all our comments and updates — our favourite snacks to our favourite running routes. I don’t think advertisers want or need to get that granular. They are still more interested in “clumps” and communities, rather than my particular likes and dislikes.
    I really don’t care if Facebook can target me with an ad according to my likes. I’m going to get ads, and it beats getting ads for things I don’t care about!
    Right now, I see the data being used to build general profiles, or personas. Is that bad? Is it bad that the people creating programs and products know some of my likes and dislikes? Sometimes. But sometimes it’s also super cool.
    As Mitch said, as users, we need to be smarter.
    I think I would hate to see the government get involved and would hope the community could police itself. That may be wishful thinking.
    I do know, it’s really good to have these conversations. As these tools become more common, they become invisible and we really don’t know the consequences or effects this will have 5 years from now.
    My children have spam collecting email addresses for any communities they join. I’m sure other people have ideas that are just as clever ideas and even more clever.

  8. You write that ‘companies shouldn’t be able to monetize users data without their consent.’ Isn’t signing up for the service (like Facebook) in the first place giving them permission to do so?

  9. Signing up for the service is agreeing to the T’s & C’s that they can use your information the way they want.
    Data is irrelevant but when this data is “mined” then it becomes priceless, narrowing the target market, demographics …
    That’s the new age of information gathering and marketing online.

  10. While I share Ayala’s belief that our intellectual property should be ours and ours alone, I often think some of the concern regarding the data being collected for targeted advertising purposes is somewhat overblown. Yes, it’s a problem, but what concerns me more is another thing Mitch mentioned – these “oops” security glitches that I’m betting aren’t just happening. I often think of them as being secretive forms of Facebook Beacon.

  11. Hi Mitch
    Totally agree. Then, when do we start formalizing these behavioral rules and teaching them to our children? That’s really now part of literacy. Social media literacy beyond the Fourth Revolution includes behaving in a safe and effective way on all sorts of social networks. This includes keeping minimum privacy.

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