Clarity & Trust re Internet Privacy
Our industry is in danger of killing itself by privacy abuse – what with Apple’s ‘addressgate’ and numerous other instances of companies extracting user data without being clear to users that that is what they are doing – TRUST is being eroded. Without trust users won’t use new systems and apps.
To date it seems that most of those complaining about privacy abuse have been members of what might be called the “technorati” and to that extent it seems to me that many firms have felt that as long as the public might be concerned, but weren’t directly complaining with their feet, then “what was/is to worry about?”. However, this issue, due to I believe to the increasing frequency and size of the what are to me clearly privacy abuses, is becoming ever more a public one. The Wall Street Journal has for several years now been writing about the subject in their “What They Know” series of Articles and today the Sunday Times have written a very interesting expose “Tap, tap tapping us all up – mobile apps invade privacy”.
I have asked for clarity in internet privacy before, and I think that this is the root of the issue. We, the public, need to know what data we are handing over for what purpose so we can make informed decisions. Having a 10 page privacy document which spells out detail is not the answer – not only because they are largely disingenuous saying what they will take but hiding it in generalisms, but because no one is going to read 10 pages. Maybe they should, but they won’t.
The first and most obvious point is that web sites and applications should take no more data than they need and they should not keep that data for longer than they need. But what is the need? – is the need of the business different from that sold to the consumer? The consumer is prepared to trust organisations with very detailed data, credit cards and supermarket store cards are a classic examples – but we trust them and, largely, there are no reported major abuses. These organisations “need” the data they say to provide us with a better service – so they can of course sell us more; we accept this bargain because they give us something in return, e.g. points to redeem. Facebook and many of the apps accused of being too liberal with privacy, use our data to give us a free service – surely this is an acceptable trade too? To which my answer is yes, IF I know what I am trading – if what is being ‘taken’ is clear and the use to which it is put is clear. But this clarity is not there and our trust is being abused.
So how do we regain trust – at Open Digital, the organisation of which I am Chairman, we will be proposing a scheme of voluntary icons where as a consumer I give the web site/app the rights to use my data on specified terms. James Firth, the CEO of Open Digital, is working with others in this field to define this concept and how it could reasonably be implemented to the benefit of all, without the need for new laws which might shackle the internet. This is probably not the only answer, and may not be the best answer (albeit that it seems best to me at the moment!) – we should certainly debate its merits and those of other solutions and collectively, as an industry, come up with an answer. But whatever we as an industry do, we need to do it quickly – we need to rebuild trust and ensure that people’s desire for privacy (or not) is respected and personal data is not taken, recorded and kept unless the user is clearly informed.
We also need to rethink some of our internet and software models – data may be the new currency, but sometimes the old currency works as well. Gives users a choice – pay $x for a service or have it free for us to use your data – an option? With my business DADapp we are providing a 100% private sharing capability where we, the company, never see our user’s data – ever – but we charge $8 a year for it.
Privacy IS important. Users are prepared to trade elements of data and by implication their privacy for benefit. But like any trade if TRUST is to be maintained CLARITY is required as to the terms of the trade.