Privacy – outdated luxury or public necessity?
As part of our feature How Facebook sold your privacy in issue 210 of PC Pro, we spoke to two professionals to seek their contrasting views. On the one hand, personal information is key to the commercial success of websites, but privacy campaigners think the data haul has gone too far.
Here we get views from both sides of the fence:
Why privacy still matters
Nick Pickles – director Big Brother Watch
Uncomfortable as it may be to admit, we live in the age of the ‘social stalker’, where it is regarded as trivial to delve online to see what the internet holds about friends, potential employees and ourselves.
The rise of social networks, e-commerce and digital democracy have seen the volume of personal information on the web explode, while the emergence of intelligent search engines have made finding the right piece of information much easier.
As the volume of incorrect data in circulation increases, the appetite to reclaim control of our information – and who holds it – will only increase
In this environment, privacy may seem an antiquated concept. However, at Big Brother Watch we are only too aware that while the massive amounts of information voluntarily made available, and passively gathered, online may change the nature of what we regard as private, privacy is still something people care about. Crucially, it is a concept that goes to the heart of a rewarding life in a digital society.
As the risk of identity theft becomes much more tangible to more of the public, greater consideration will be given about keeping information private.
Furthermore, as the volume of incorrect data in circulation increases, the appetite to reclaim control of our information – and who holds it – will only increase.
On the back of this mountain of personal information a new economy has been born online. The user may not always be aware, but the most granular information has become the currency that has driven the growth in the advertising-funded web.
That is not to say the only choice is to hand over our browsing habits, geo-location and real time searches. Ad-led business models are rooted in offline history, from television to free sheets, and will evolve online too as services demonstrate value to justify payments or open-source, ad-free competitors emerge. Privacy remains a competitive differentiator and its market significance is only going to grow.
Where the market fails, regulation will intervene and we continue to await clarity over what most of the EU member states will do with to implement the EU’s Cookie Directive. While it may be fair to say tackling cookies was the wrong problem to focus on – and a new Data Protection Directive would certainly be a more welcome effort to protect privacy – the reluctance of UK regulators to tackle these issues has been disheartening.
Worse, it does little to reassure consumers that they are safe online, risking the economic and public service benefits that the web absolutely offers.
The mantra that if you are not paying for something then you are not the customer, but the product remains true. The digital society has not reached maturity and it is clear people have not accepted a world without privacy; it is simply the case that our personal information was the most accessible and least inconvenient currency.
Click page 2 below to read the views of the Internet Advertising Bureau