Tech & The District » Privacy Tech the way we see it: insights and musings on technology PR, policy and the District, from H&K’s D.C. Tech Team. Thu, 04 Aug 2011 15:06:44 +0000 en hourly 1 Privacy and the Terminator Wed, 17 Mar 2010 21:58:42 +0000 duncanburns

Great piece today by Steve Lohr in the NY Times (A1, above the fold) on How Privacy Vanishes online. Though the concept of digital litter and eroding privacy expectations have been around for a while, and are perhaps fodder for some of our more technology-phobic friends, family and colleagues, the story points to what I think is likely to be a big new battleground in DC. At what point should the government step in online and protect us from ourselves?

They already do to some extent with other forms of content/communication like films and games with rating systems and phone lines with do not call registries, but in some ways these are incoming rather than outgoing communications where we are voluntarily (phishing aside) for the most part divulging what used to be considered personal and private.

Where should the FTC, Congress or states draw the line on what’s acceptable – balancing individual freedom to share with protecting those individuals in spite of themselves? Having been a victim of banking fraud, I personally don’t want anyone guessing my social security number, but perhaps I’m already at risk given what I’ve put out there.

It’s going to be interesting to see how new tech dynamos work with government to find that balance. I’m sure it’ll be a full and frank discussion to borrow some diplomatic speak, but perhaps the discussion in itself will help educate a broader swath of people about the risks of some of what they’re putting online.

For companies in this space, start communicating your point of view now if you aren’t already, and talk about the options you’re giving your customers, and the ways you’re protecting them. Given the Whac-A-Mole style of politics at time, I’m not sure how much longer online companies are going to be able to get away with an approach of “ask for forgiveness not permission” when it comes to privacy. Though Google and Facebook are two prominent examples of firms dealing with these issues, they won’t be the last and at least they’ve built up enough trust, brand recognition and goodwill to make adjustments without too much damage. Can we say that about most companies grappling with these issues?

Perhaps we all just need to go off the grid like John Connor…? 

Is this what we can expect if we share too much online?

Is this what we can expect if we share too much online?

]]> 1 Consumer Privacy under the Microscope Fri, 20 Nov 2009 19:15:56 +0000 Vanessa Truskey Buffalo Sabres' Goalie Ryan Miller.  Bet he doesn't let much personal information get by him.

Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. Bet he doesn't let much sensitive personal information get by him.

Last week, a catalog of NHL gear arrived in my mailbox.  On the cover was a photo of a Buffalo Sabres jersey, customized with my last name, “Truskey,” embroidered on the back.  That’s interesting, I thought.  I’d never purchased anything from this catalog before.  How did they know I’m a Sabres fan?  The same thing happened at my local grocery store, when coupons showed up on the back of the receipt for items that I buy frequently.  That’s when I started to feel like someone was watching me…and it wasn’t the Geico stack of money.

More now than ever, much of our personal data is up for grabs by marketers willing to pay for it.  We have membership cards for grocery stores, convenience stores and department stores that track our purchases.  We have smart cards and EZ-Pass devices that record which subway turnstile we go through and when, and which exit we take on the Interstate.  Marketers are good at creating profiles of who we are – whether we like it or not.

A House hearing was held yesterday to explore this very topic.  It was a fascinating discussion. While companies like Wal-Mart (who was represented on the panel) take steps to ensure customers understand which privacy regulations are in place, other companies aren’t so straightforward.  A small business representative was also on the panel, and asked that any legislation enacted not be the same for all businesses; Wal-Mart doesn’t have to work to attract customers, but small business do, she argued, and they find this type of data collected on consumers to be very helpful in generating new customers.  And from a consumer perspective – some like targeted advertisements, some don’t.  The trick will be to find a solution that doesn’t restrict business growth, but protects consumers while not cutting off services they appreciate.

The conversation will continue in December when the Federal Trade Commission will hold a roundtable to discuss data-collection practices with representatives of the ad, media and technology industries and consumer groups.  As for me … I’m still deciding which number to get on the back of my jersey.

[The Chief Privacy Officer of Kantar Group, a WPP company and sister company of Hill & Knowlton, testified at the Hearing.]

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