Privacy or Convenience: Who Wins?

“We keep giving up privacy for the sake of convenience,” was a buzz-worthy quote from my Future Shopper keynote presentation at Gulltaggen 2011 in Oslo last week. Some were uncomfortable about approaching a “Minority Report”-like state where ads are contextually-targeted advertising based on location, tastes, and past history. I quoted former Google CEO Eric Schmidt from his IFA keynote where he said “We can suggest what you should do next, what you care about. Imagine: We know where you are, we know what you like.”

I’ll ask you, just like I asked the audience; how many would love to have the day when they receive an alert from their refrigerator on their cellphone that they are running low on milk when they pass their local grocery store? Almost every hand in the Oslo Spektrum went up to welcome this comfort, but there were those who felt this might be going too far. This is, of course, quite understandable. The issue of privacy and personal information is not a new one; in fact, you can see discussion of these issues as early as the 1880s to 1890s.

As this clever blog post points out about privacy concerns from Paris in 1888 about a new society newspaper where people volunteer information about themselves. “The Right to Privacy ” was published by Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis in the Harvard Law Review in 1890 in response to recent technological developments, such as photography, and sensationalist journalism, also known as yellow journalism. Warren and Brandeis declared that information which was previously hidden and private could now be “shouted from the rooftops.”

What your notion of privacy is will most likely be quite different than our parent’s generation and there is no doubt that it is already quite different for the under 21 crowd today, and it will be different for our children’s children tomorrow.

Look at What People Do, Not What They Say

Do you also remember a study by a greeting card website in the mid ’90s that found out that over 95 percent of people said they were concerned about their privacy online, yet only about half a percent of them ever looked for a company’s privacy policy? Let’s not forget that one peek at our Google search history Dashboard will reveal that Google knows more about you than your therapist or spouse. Facebook knows when your relationship is in trouble before anyone else does.

So we make a lot of noise, even pass privacy legislation, but they are hard to act on. In fact, one person I met at the conference who represents an ad retargeting company had little concern about any of the EU regulations, as they didn’t have much teeth in their bite and it would be years until anything actionable came from them. These regulations are mostly the product of the older generation fighting the natural trend of this younger generation being more open to sharing then they are comfortable with.

Have you already given up some of your privacy for the sake of convenience? Will you continue to?

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