When many people contribute to the current debate about privacy on the internet (or in the 21st century generally) they lament the loss of privacy our digital lives have engendered. It is true that our digital footprints have led marketeers, and governments to know:
- what we are viewing,
- who we are conversing with,
- what we are searching for,
- what we have bought,
The default reaction is that this is an invasion of our privacy and should not be tolerated. The EU now has a ‘right to forget’ law that allows people to petition the search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) to omit valid links on the Internet that the person does not want to show up in searches. Interestingly the offending link isn’t taken down, just the search result.
So, what are the cost and what are the benefits to this loss of privacy?
- Others can know all that I have written online by using a search engine,
- Marketeers can see what I am interested in buying, or have bought, by tracking my online digital footprints,
- Search engines can monitor what I have searched for and taken that as a proxy for what I am most interested in,
- Anyone can put all this, and more, together to get a sense of who I am:
- my age,
- my gender,
- my hobbies,
- where I go,
- who I go there with,
To the collectors of the info:
- Aggregating and storing all this crap, and most of it is worthless,
- Finding ways to take advantage of all this crap,
- Delivering something of value to me that they can monetize.
- Delivering search results that are relevant to me,
- Delivering ads (which I am going to get anyhow), which are more likely to be relevant to me,
- Delivering content that interests me
- Delivering content that is relevant to me
To the collectors of the information:
- Something of value they cherish (money, prestige at knowing something about me,etc).
What is missing from all this discussion is the benefits to me, they only talk about the benefits of the ‘trackers’; and the costs to them, they only talk costs to me.
I don’t know, and in fact nobody knows, all that everyone knows about each of us. I know that Google has a digital dossier about me, as does Facebook, and Amazon, and Newegg, and Best Buy and … I don’t know what I don’t know about all the others that have collected info on me.
I can’t or don’t want to worry about tracking all that stuff. The bottom line is that I don’t care what they have in their files about me, I only care about what they do with it, and how they use it.
- If they just store it (I know that is unlikely) they incur the cost and get no benefit,
- If they use to provide value to me by one of the benefits listed above, I gain and they gain
- If they abuse the data, I just need some recourse against them for abusing information about me. This recourse could be:
- Not interacting with them anymore
- Participating in a class action suit,
- Leading, following, or whatever in some sort of boycott or protest against them.
I protect my identify as best I can online by using secure passwords, and never re-using them, and I use two-factor authorization wherever I can. I can’t recall ever having a credit card number stolen when purchasing something online.
I have potentially had a credit card stolen by thieves getting access to it at Home Depot, Target, and Neiman Marcus during an in-store purchase. Fortunately, in the US, it is the bank that is responsible for any loss in these situations not me.
The bottom line, for now, is I get sufficient value from others having and using that information. When the calculus of that changes I might sing a different tune.