Of 3 Minds on Privacy - and a Song

  |  March 27, 2014   |  Comments

While we want our preferences and habits to be remembered by brands and marketers, the growing possibilities of Big Data bring on feelings of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

In his book Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell used the word "doublethink" to express our ability " hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them..."

I've done old George one better; I am of three minds about online privacy.

  1. I want to be remembered.
  2. Data technology is so hard that legislation is worthless.
  3. I'm scared bitless.

Do You Have Any Idea Who I Am?

The World Wide Web is made up of computers. Why on Earth can you not remember who I am, what I like, and that I have never - not once - "Para español, oprima dos." I do not want to donate to the lost iguana fund. I do not want to register for your email newsletter. I do not want overnight delivery - ever.

fingerprint-barcodeI have nothing against overnighted email newsletters about Spanish iguanas; they are simply not my area of interest. So please, use a cookie; use a Flash stored object; use a box of 3-by-5 index cards if you must, but if the woman at the laundry can remember I like my shirts with light starch and on hangers, if my barber can remember I like my neck cut straight across instead of tapered, and if everybody at my favorite Italian restaurant can remember I prefer pinot noir over cabernet and cabernet over chianti, then why, oh why, can you not remember that I use my business credit card for books and my personal credit card when I buy clothes?

I've previously written about personalization and privacy, including articles about allowing the customer to control the relationship...

...the pain and suffering that can be avoided if you remember me...

...and even offered up a new way to measure if you're doing it right:

I would willingly tattoo a bar code on my forehead if it got me through the security line at the airport faster and allow me to always have a room near - but not right next to the elevator.

But Isn't It Just Too Hard?

I recently wrote an article about the practical conundrum dispensed by the European Parliament and the European Commission's data protection reform: "EU Legislators Decree the Impossible." In it, I lamented about the difficulty of living up to the four basic tenets of this legislation:

  • The right to be forgotten
  • Easier access to your own data
  • Explicit consent over the use or your data
  • Privacy by design by default

Modern data processing just isn't up to the task. A quick read of Mark Gibbs' compelling series of blogs for Pneuron called "Dark Data: The Mysterious Force that Holds the Corporate Universe Together" is all it takes to realize we will never, truly, have control over data again.

I want to be remembered and I realize it's tough to do. Those who do it well (Amazon's 1-Click button, anybody?) will earn my business. But there is a dark side as well.

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

graveyard-2Given my predilection to be remembered, I used to argue that fear about personal data was a bit overblown - real tin-foil-hat stuff. But then, Aurélie Pols of Mind Your Privacy told me the story of the Netherlands in the 1930s.

The government decided to survey their citizens regarding their religious preferences. Should one die destitute, the government would be able to select the proper burial according the individual's faith. That seemed like a very good and compassionate idea until May 10, 1940 when Nazi Germany invaded and used that database in unforeseen ways.

In a world of Big Data, where it is economically acceptable to store more and more and more, there will soon be enough information about each individual to create a compelling case against anybody about anything.

Do I have ties to splinter Ukrainian extremist factions? Well, there is that picture of me entering the USA from Europe on the same plane as a guy whose dentist used to go to school with...etc.

And so, along with Edward Snowden's revelations, I was compelled to express my fear, uncertainty, and song:

Yes, I am of three minds...and one of them is pleased to discover that tin-foil hats might actually offer some protection: Do Tinfoil Hats Really Block Your Brain Waves?

Images via Shutterstock.

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Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne is an international consultant who focuses on measuring the value of the Web as a medium for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, is the founding president and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association and produces the eMetrics Summit and the Media Analytics Summit.

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