Chapell & Associates

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Will Convenience Beat Privacy?

BBC News - January 26, 2006
Remember the last time you shopped in your local supermarket? Did the freckly 18-year-old at the till demand that you tell him your birthday, where you live, your e-mail address, and whether you are interested in music or sport? And would you have walked out had he done so? But here we are, happily giving out this and much more information when we shop online, sign up for a newspaper's website or subscribe to an e-mail service. So should we be bothered? "Not necessarily" was the answer of most participants at a World Economic Forum session called "Privacy - it was nice while we had it". Because giving up your privacy can be great.

The Chapell View
Reporting from the Davos World Economic Forum, BBC's Business Editor, Tim Weber, has written an interesting take on what world business leaders think of the issues we in the online marketing biz talk about daily - what information is being collected from consumers, how it's being used, and the value in this use. In the (provocatively titled) session he discusses, the answers to these questions seem to be: lots of information is being collected, not enough is being done with it, and consumers really do benefit from the collection of their data.

Weber notes a number of ways private information is collected by businesses, but also agrees with the panelists that "it is actually surprising how little of the collected data is actually used." Moreover, he argues that "Ultimately, privacy may not be the issue. Rather, the point is whether all this data of ours is held securely - or can be stolen or used in a way you don't want."

I think Weber is right to point out the enormous amount of data collected by global businesses - and the importance of keeping it secure. Focusing on data security, though, doesn't alleviate all of the privacy concerns out there. If organizations are collecting personal data from consumers and then doing nothing with it, one important question is: why?

Providing information to companies can be a boon for customers, but only if they gain something in return - otherwise there's no actual exchange. The promise of "1to1 marketing" - in which consumers receive personalized and valuable advertising - pretty much falls apart without some focus on how data is used to a consumer's benefit.

Businesses that collection sensitive information aren't necessarily asking consumers to cede their privacy - as long as there's an up-front reason for the collection that benefits the consumer. So giving up personal information can be great, and consumers often do see real and tangible benefits in doing so. I'm less convinced that "giving up your privacy can be great," but maybe this is just a little broad for me...
posted by Isaac on Tuesday, January 31, 2006

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