As if we needed any more proof that consumers are concerned about privacy only so long as it doesn't cost them money or time to protect it: The Wall Street Journal reports that AT&T, which tracks users' browsing history through its fiber-optic internet service, allows consumers to opt out of browser tracking by paying an extra $29 a month. Sounds like a deal, right? Not according to the Atlantic's Greg Ferenstein, who reports that few AT&T customers pay for the service. Ferenstein quotes a TechCrunch report to argue that privacy is essentially a 20th Century invention:
Privacy was not an issue in hunter-gather societies, because it wasn't even a possibility. “Privacy is something which has emerged out of the urban boom coming from the industrial revolution,” explained Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf at a Federal Trade Commission event in 2013. "Privacy may actually be an anomaly."
Consumers' apparent disregard for the sanctity of their personal information shouldn't surprise; to paraphrase John Oliver, Apple could insert the entire text of Mein Kampf into iTunes' Terms & Conditions and everyone would still click "Accept." Does our ancient-yet-modern disregard for privacy mean that marketers can just track whatever they want, and sell the data to whomever they want, and skip along merrily down the road? Quoted in eWEEK, technology analyst Ken Hyers cautions that consumers may soon wake up:
"I believe that the balance between information collected and consumers' benefit from this collection, over the last couple of years, has shifted dramatically in online companies favor," said Hyers. "And I believe that there is a danger that the consumer will begin to benefit less from this ongoing shift." We've reached a point, Hyers believes, where "regulations governing how this information is collected and used, including explicit and easy-to-understand information about exactly what is collected, are necessary."
How can marketers continue to collect information while acting responsibly? Best practice in online data management calls for transparency in the value exchange: Make explicit what data you're collecting, and make explicit how the consumer will benefit by giving up said data. Everybody's happy!
As for me, I'm an open book. I'll tell you anything--as long as there's something in it for me.
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Rick Ferguson is the author of The Chronicles of Elberon fantasy trilogy. Rick is also a globally recognized marketing expert with appearances in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age, Fast Company, the Globe & Mail Canada, the Guardian UK, the Financial Times India, MSNBC, and the Fox Business Channel. He has delivered keynote speeches on marketing principles and best practices on six continents. He is also master of time, space, and dimension.