Online Info Privacy vs. Transparency

9 09 2009

Lock DownAs social media continues to embed itself in our everyday lifestyles, the question of privacy burns in the mind of all users of the social web.  What information can people see?  How much do I want people to know about me?  Is my boss going to see my Facebook profile? The issue is a hot topic and one that legislation and government can’t seem to ignore.   A few days ago I came across an article in Adweek: Pressure Mounts on Web Tracking.  The article discusses a proposal for new legislation to alter commonplace internet advertising on the web.  The proposal looks to essentially eradicate, or at least hinder behavior-based advertising by limiting the amount of time advertisers can access behavioral data (24 hrs.) and relying on consent of information by consumers for long term use of data. 

While I believe that the privacy of information is a very important issue and I agree that out-right exploitation by consumers is obviously wrong, I do not agree that the social web should be censored or limited by government regulation.  What these consumer advocacy groups who made the proposal seem to misunderstand is that by creating an open social web, we can actually limit the amount of advertising white-noise that we come across today.  I’m talking about complete personalization. Using information put forth by users online, willingly, to make web content relevant, including the advertising of products or services.  Finally, the social web may one day enable us to stop searching, and allow products and services to find us.  I think this will in fact decrease consumer exploitation.  After all, advertising online is extremely voluntary (click/or don’t click).

Through the use of behavioral data, consumers can receive highly targeted and personalized messages that will allow them to evaluate options and make better choices based upon these offerings.   Think about small local businesses.  The internet has democratized commerce allowing a number of small local businesses to offer services that compete with major corporations, but succeed due to a better value offering and basic awareness generated via the web.   If we begin to limit contextual and semantic data, which can provide some important demographic and psychographic info, we are stepping back ten years when display ads on the internet become the annoying pop-up that is immediately ignored. 

In a time when transparency is demanded by so many consumers for businesses and corporations, I do not see why the same for consumers should not be true to an extent.  The web is a social forum.  If individuals do not understand this, then they should not put their information out there. No one is to blame for a lack of privacy on the web other than yourself.  No one forces you to put your age, gender, location, favorite sports team etc. etc. online.   As consumers, we must first learn the true implications of contextual data before we condemn it as the next form of identity theft.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue as it continues to unfold.

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