Data has become a ubiquitous term that is discussed as a core asset for companies. Organizations need data to develop new business models, fuel their services, and hence, stay competitive in a world, flushed with information.
But how to balance data harvesting and preserving privacy? Companies should strive towards building convenient and individual privacy to ensure customer trust.
Where do companies stand?
Data privacy is perceived as something that is under constant threat by companies. However, most data-harvesting organizations cannot be accused of operating outside country law. Perceived violations of privacy, as an intrusion into seclusion, are rather emerging from harming social norms than actual contravention of the law. This is what research has described as creepiness: you know that Facebook can target tailor-made adds to your current desires. This is not illegal but still feels, well, creepy. Eric Schmitt, the former CEO of Google as an example of a particular data-hungry company, even once said that the company strategy was to design services on the edge of tolerated creepiness. The perceived creepiness often arises from a lack of understanding of the ramifications of sharing personal data. Therefore, the question prevails on how to empower customers so that they become aware of the negative and positive implications of giving up privacy?
Informed consent is only the first step
While regulatory endeavors are pushing transparency into how companies are using personal data, this is often limited to informed consent. Yet, there are two problems associated with informed consent.
First, customers might not possess the time or expertise to understand the ramifications of data usage provided in the privacy agreement. For instance, if an average user was reading all privacy agreements he or she encounters over a year, they would need seventy-six working days to do so. Moreover, it is difficult to calculate the harm that can be done with the exposed data, as non-personal data can become personal through merging it with different data sources let alone the opportunities of data usage that are far from being fully explored.
Secondly, it is often practically impossible to opt out of invasive data gathering by companies without effectively opting out of society and human contact. Imagine the community of your favorite hobby organizes themselves on Facebook or WhatsApp. It will be difficult to convince everyone to join a more privacy-preserving service if the current platforms are well-established, extremely convenient to use, and overall cost-free. Consequently, individuals face a trade-off between excluding themselves from society or giving up privacy. This explains the prevailing privacy paradox: people are concerned about data privacy but are not acting accordingly. Not because they effectively do not care but because it is really hard.
Convenient and individual privacy
The idea of convenient and individual privacy is based on two main principles. First, companies have to strive towards full transparency of data usage and present it in an understandable format to customers. In a world that is striving towards customer-centricity and convenience of services, it is remarkable how complicated and blurry privacy terms are still formulated. Secondly, customers have to be able to select their personal level of intrusion. The willingness to share data might not be equally distributed among society. Some individuals might weigh the benefits of giving up privacy stronger than others and are hence, more likely to accept a higher level of intrusion. Achieving convenient privacy will lay the foundation for establishing trusting relationships with customers. Trust, as a key enabler of commerce, intimacy, and free expression, enables customers to safely disclose personal data in long-term relationships. This unique data can lead to unique services, which makes convenient privacy an enabler for building competitive advantages.
by Jonas Röttger, FINDER ESR