On the other hand, we as individuals are increasingly disturbed by how much these same organizations know about us, and it's only going to more disconcerting in the future.
In between is the quaint notion of a privacy disclosure: a veritable fig leaf that attempts to cover the naked truth of what's really going on.
Almost always rendered in small fonts and obtuse legalese, these are quickly displayed in a perfunctory fashion, never to be seen again.
In the spirit of openness and transparency, I'd like to share my personal thoughts as to what an ideal a privacy disclosure ought to do -- and that's tell it like it really is.
Honesty Is The Best Policy
For starters, I work for EMC, and many of our products and strategies are squarely aimed at helping our customers gather, analyze and exploit massive amounts of information, including (inevitably) various forms of personal information.
We're not unique in this regard -- the same can be said about many IT companies, large or small.
And, of course, many of our best (and most interesting!) customers are passionately focused at the undeniable big data opportunities ahead of them.
That being said, I believe it's time to start being painfully honest on how we all are collectively starting to use vast amounts of personal information in an incredibly variety of useful ways, including a few that we as individuals might not be entirely comfortable with.
In my mind, there are few villains here -- just organizations learning to exploit the powerful new tools at hand.
I've always believed that honesty is the best policy, so I'd like to encourage a new style of privacy disclosure: ones that actually say what's going on, and why it's happening.
Imaginary qNetCo Privacy Disclosure
Our approach to your privacy is largely driven by qNetCo's business model, our need to make money, and our need to compete vigorously in the marketplace.
Your personal information, when amassed with those of others, is increasingly a valuable resource to us. The more we know about you, the better we can target our products and services.
There's not much preventing us at qNetCo from doing more with your personal information once we've gathered it.
Our real challenge is perception: those of qNetCo's customers, societal perceptions and -- of course -- the occasional legal restriction.
Many of qNetCo's customers appear to be completely unconcerned with our use of their personal information as we see fit, based on their actions and expressed preferences. Different societies and cultures approach this whole topic very differently; the norms will vary widely depending on what part of the world qNetCo is doing business in.
There are relatively few legal regulations on how qNetCo uses the information we gather about you. We at qNetCo will always follow the letter of the law, but existing regulations currently don't provide you with meaningful protection.
3. Not Entirely For Our Use
qNetCo has found that other organizations want to know what we know about you, and are willing to pay for that privilege. For qNetCo, it's an attractive incremental revenue stream. We can't ignore it.
You, as a provider of that information, don't really have much control about who qNetCo sells this information to. Nor does any of this really benefit you directly. Again, a surprising number of people are OK with this, so we hope you will be too.
A special case of this involves government agencies. Legally, qNetCo is required to hand over whatever we know about you if they ask. And -- just to be clear -- qNetCo is not going to spend a bunch of money on lawyers to defend your privacy, unless we feel it's in our best interests.
As qNetCo gathers, analyzes and uses your information more effectively, you may observe outcomes that you're not always happy with, for example:
- The extension of credit, credit terms, financial products, etc. will be increasingly based on factors not entirely visible to you.
- Offers of insurance and other risk mitigation products will also be increasingly based on factors not entirely visible to you.
- Traditional forms of irrelevant and annoying solicitation (emails, telemarketing calls, etc.) may increase dramatically.
- Newer forms of solicitation will be incredibly precise and somewhat scary in how much they know about you.
- You may find the exact same ad showing up on every site you visit, which can be very disturbing. Content distributors (cable, web, etc.) are learning how to do the same trick, meaning you might see the same targeted ad 40 or 50 times in sequence.
- And other occasionally unnerving things that haven't been thought of yet.
5. Protecting Your Personal Information
Since your personal information has value, we at qNetCo do make a serious effort to protect it and keep it secure. However, we're not perfect at it, so expect the occasional breach from time to time.
We'll do our best to notify you when this happens, and what steps you can take -- if any -- to protect yourself from our mistakes.
6. Copyright Law
Many of you post content, and might think that you have ownership rights to your own content. While that might be debatable in a court of law, the costs of you enforcing those rights will vastly outweigh any benefits that might accrue to you.
7. Your Options
You're welcome to do anything on your side of the wire to mask your identity, limit the personal information we can gather, delete tracking cookies, etc.
We at qNetCo won't like it, but there's nothing we can really do about it, other than refuse to do business with you, or hope that you'll be lazy. It seems that lots of people are taking that second option.
The only other option is for you to refuse to do business with qNetCo.
So far, that hasn't been a popular choice.
If all of this bothers you, there's not that much that can be done about it. This is the way the world is going, and fast. We at qNetCo are not acting alone.
Face it -- there's a huge economic and social incentive to gather and analyze as much information about you as is humanly possible. Information about you is continually being generated in vastly more places, the resources required to capture and process it all are becoming incredibly cost-effective, and the legal system isn't moving as fast as the technology is.
We think that -- ultimately -- all of this will be for the good.
Not just ours, but yours as well.
To the extent that doctors can better diagnose and treat disease, or teachers can do a better job educating our kids, or we can come up with better answers for global warming, poverty, etc. -- all of that lies ahead.
And, truth be known, we all like working with companies that listen closely to us and understand our preferences. That's our primary motivation.
Our recommendation at qNetCo is simple: hang on and enjoy the ride.
It's going to be a good one.