Thursday, September 4, 2014

Big Privacy: It's Coming

By Marc Dresner, IIR

My blog last week focused on data brokers and the looming threat of a Big Privacy backlash in response to Big Data collection run amuck.

I want to stick with Big Privacy this week, because I believe strongly that the consequences of inaction for those in the consumer insights field could be more serious than most of us realize.

For starters, high-profile gaffes by Facebook, Apple (I'm referring to "Locationgate" not the naked photo scandal) and the like have done much to educate the public on the data-for-service arrangements those of us who didn't read the Privacy Policy unknowingly entered into with such companies.

I think most people have since resigned themselves to this trade-off. 

Maybe that’s because many of us did a rough cost-benefit analysis and, if not ideal, we found the model acceptable, harmless, reasonable… 


The absence of any evidence suggesting widespread public outrage has to do with the fact that people don’t think they have any choice

But I suspect that more likely than not, the relative absence of any evidence that suggests widespread public outrage has to do with the fact that people don’t think they have any choice in the matter.

A friend I recently mentioned this to dismissed the idea, noting that Facebook isn’t forcing anyone to use its network.

That's true. And it's pretty much irrelevant to a realistic discussion about privacy, because what matters here is the perception of transparency and ethical conduct.

No one is being forced to Google anything, either. But that didn’t prevent the European Union Court of Justice from ruling in May that Google must amend search results upon request—a precedent-setting decision that asserts the rights of the individual to control his/her personal data.

Indeed, it's this notion of control (and informed consent) that we need to start considering when we talk about privacy.


People are waking up to the fact that information about them is being collected and used for purposes that they aren’t aware of and might not consent to if they were

People are just now starting to wake up to the fact that information about them is being collected by unknown others and used for purposes that they aren’t aware of and might not consent to if they were.

Most of the general public, I think, knows that privately held data—credit reports, purchase histories, loyalty data—about them exist and are shared between companies, but I’d wager few people understand the extent of this sharing or what policies or rules govern such activity.

Josh Klein, author of “Reputation Economics: Why Who You Know Is Worth More Than What You Have,” points out that most people would probably be surprised to learn that Acxiom and LexisNexis have been aggregating purchase history to develop health profiles, which they sell to hospitals who then use the information to advertise targeted medical services.

"Tell people this sort of thing and it’s no leap for them to imagine that information going to their insurance adjustors," Klein said in a presentation he delivered at TMRE's sister event, Shopper Insights in Action, this past July.

People would probably be even more shocked to know what can be amassed about them in the public domain—tax records, voting records, ethnicity, religion, who your neighbors are, if you’re married, do you take care of your parents, do you have children, etc.

This information isn’t just available to Big Brother; it's available to, well, me if I want it.

Klein pointed out that Spokeo combs publicly available sources, aggregates the data and basically provides a docier on individuals to subscribers for about $3 per month.

Now, you can opt out of a Spokeo listing, but you cannot close the spigot of publicly available data about you. That alarms some people. 


Surveillance is a loaded word, but that’s what is happening when we go online, isn’t it? 

Surveillance is a loaded word, but that’s what is happening when we go online, isn’t it? And on such a massive scale that Orwellian is almost an understatement.


Klein notes that Google only needs 22 points of data to figure out who you are wherever you log on(Whether you hit the logo to go back to the home page or hit the home button is one such data point.)

And then there’s mobilewhere you go, what you do on your phoneit’s all being collected. 

People may have signed on, but they are not on board.


So, again, why haven’t we seen a bigger backlash?

Maybe it's a matter of ignorance or denial. Maybe people think it’s futile. Maybe we’re just lazy.


Whatever the case, it is a curious thing and I'm not the only one who believes the situation is unsustainable.

Coming Next: Data Custodianship, Privacy By Design and a Huge Opportunity for Consumer Researchers.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR 
Marc Dresner is IIR USA’s sr. editor and special communication project lead. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for the marketing research and consumer insights industry. He may be reached at mdresner@iirusa.com. Follow him @mdrezz.

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