Image credit: istock

PRIVACY, LOCATION, TRUST and FAIRNESS

[This post originally appeared on www.troglo.net/blog September 10th 2014. I am one of the founders and we help restaurants and retail derive actionable analytics from location-based big data.]

THE PRIVACY DEBATE IS OFF THE RAILS: YOU CANNOT TAKE PERSONAL INFORMATION FROM PEOPLE WITHOUT THEIR KNOWLEDGE, EVEN IF IT IS ANONYMIZED. PERIOD.

I provide companies with customer insights and new ways to market their products. Naturally I have something to say about customer privacy. Not because I need to defend Troglo’s position or explain what privacy “IS” (as I see many do), but because I am a human being. I have concerns and want to protect myself just as much as the next guy.

Online or smartphone tracking coupled with a physical location, appears to scare us the most. Are we confident that the companies collecting our information will be good stewards of it? Or, more importantly, are we comfortable that our real world habits are recorded and stored in some database? If these are the key questions we ask then we are not talking about privacy, but rather trust, and what we believe is fair.

Traditional credit card companies has delivered branded credit cards with retailers for decades. Data they collect is used to tailor offerings or make our shopping experience better. They track a lot more than what most apps or retailers can track with your phone, like what you bought and where, and where you live. I wasn’t around when these cards first hit the market, but I am sure they didn’t create nearly as many concerns as location tracking using smartphones has.

Yes, the times are different and you could argue that our willingness to share information is inversely proportional to our knowledge about how it used. Certainly, businesses and governments takes advantage of our lack of knowledge and this may have contributed to our scepticism. But is this the entire story? I think not, and here is why.

I like to believe I have average attitudes towards privacy. I typically weight the benefit of sharing information up against the potential risks of sharing it. This assumes a few things:

  1. I know that I am about to be tracked,
  2. there is a benefit related to being tracked,
  3. I understand what the possible risks are and
  4. I can actually opt out.

THIS IS NOT FAIR!!

I AM TRYING TO SPEND MY HARD EARNED MONEY IN YOUR STORE. DON’T HOLD ME HOSTAGE!

If I didn’t know that I was tracked and I had no reasonable opportunity to opt out if I knew, I will have a very negative experience. I might have received some great benefits from it and the actual risks might have been very low, but that doesn’t matter at that point. Humans don’t like to be told how the world works and we especially don’t like the feeling of being held hostage. It is a survival instinct.

Finally, our feelings are easily influenced by the organization we share information with. If I get a credit card from my favourite store I already have a relationship with them, and my tolerance for what is fair is probably a bit more relaxed than if ‘some random company’ tracks my phone’s WiFi signals.

If you ask for some information, it has to be participatory. Companies like Troglo and the firms we work with communicates with customers for a living. We need to show end customers that we use the data we have to make the conversion more meaningful. Then, and only then can we put the privacy debate behind us.

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