Privacy Issues

Privacy Issues

Private Property SignRecent privacy issues have created a bit of a quandary out there for communications professionals. Targeting the right people, knowing how, when and where to reach them, is as close to the Holy Grail as it gets for our business. This isn’t anything new.

What’s different is that today more people then ever volunteer intimate details about their lives to all their friends online, if not the whole world. So, it’s no surprise companies are looking to make money on this information by selling it to people like us who want to sell things to other people.

Capitalizing on this information is the entire reason money has been invested in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and every other for-profit social media site. All those servers and software have to be paid for somehow. I get that and accept it as long as the companies are up front about what information of mine they’re collecting and selling, and to whom. Is that really too much to ask?

Last week, I was very glad I’d passed on the mobile social network known as “Path” after I read this New York Times piece. While it seems the company has since done the right thing, the network initially uploaded its users’ address books without their knowledge and/or approval, creating a lot of negative backlash. The company’s first response to the outcry was that it was an “industry best practice,” which is scary in its own right. Eventually, they realized they went too far and have promised to delete what they borrowed.

That would have been more than an “Oops!” to me. But thanks to this, I’m now looking for better encryption for my contacts list just in case I sign up for something that buries its intent to use my information in some incomprehensible Terms of Service (ToS).

I spend a ton of time reading those things before I sign up. I need to know what I’m giving people/companies permission to access. Like you, while I have a public profile, I also have information on my computer that is confidential. So, if the ToS isn’t clear, I don’t sign up. If I have to guess what I’m agreeing to, my answer is always “NO”.

So far I’m OK with what the networks I’m using are collecting and selling because I appreciate the tools they’re providing, but there are limits on what I’m willing to share in exchange for this access. I would like to see complete transparency as an industry best practice. I’m tired of digging through the ToS legalese to figure it all out, or worse, having to opt out of something after the fact. Just tell us up front what you want and what you’re going to do with it in plain language. We’ll probably say yes, but we should know what we’re getting into.

Do you agree?

  • It’s a double-edged sword; we’re getting the tools, they’re getting the info. People are more open than ever before online, but because of privacy, those gems and pieces of info are hoped to be kept safe, out of the eyes of the public. Can we have our cake (publicly or to circles display our lives) and eat it too? (not get it in to the “wrong” hands).

    I’ve always wondered this, Rick – when a company says they don’t “sell” info – do they still give it away or trade it to other services for money, etc..?

    March 5, 2012 at 6:28 pm
    • Jacob,

      Thanks for dropping by… It would be nice to think we can have the tools and information security but I tend to be paranoid about it. Some of that is probably based on the time I spend with people in the military. Let’s just say that if the information is accessible via the Internet it can probably be hacked.

      I’m not an attorney and don’t play one on this blog, but it is my understanding from numerous briefings that giving information away or bartering it would legally requires the same disclosure as selling it. You really have to wade through each sites terms of service to know what they’re doing.

      March 5, 2012 at 6:47 pm