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How Much Does Online Privacy Matter To You?

This is a post that I am guessing will get some fairly passionate responses on either side of the debate.  Here’s the question lots of people are asking today: where and how much does privacy really matter to you online?  This is a critical question for 3 reasons:

  1. Marketers have more data about people than they ever have
  2. Social networks are experimenting with new ways to let marketers use data that was previously hidden
  3. People are sharing more and more of their private lives online

I wrote a piece about two weeks ago for the ThinkerNet site which talked about why identity may be the future of online advertising.  The article got some very good reasoned comments from folks who wondered whether Facebook may be overstepping their bounds and compromising their user’s privacy.  These are valid questions hovering around many other sites and social networks as well.

I recall another such uprising a few years ago when Google first introduced Gmail with a similarly contentious idea … serving text ads based on the content of your email.  You may disagree with me on this, but I feel that one place online where I am most concerned about privacy is in my email.  The simple reason for this is that the information I choose to share on any social network is up to me.  My email, on the other hand, is usually meant to be private.

For these reasons, I would say that privacy matters most to me in my email, and less so in my profiles on social networks.  Does this mean that I want people grabbing my personal details or stealing my identity?  Of course not.  But the problem is that many people are lumping privacy concerns into this single bucket.  Just because someone serves ads against data they have doesn’t mean they are going to sell your credit card information and email address to the highest bidder.  When Google first introduced Gmail, it came with the unheard of condition that in order to get it, you would have to be comfortable with them serving text ads against the content of your emails

Yet in time I got used to it – as most Gmail users did.  Perhaps I’m unique, but I’ve even been guilty of sending myself an email with a brand or product name in it so I will get the associated Google ads with discount codes and links that I can click on and follow to purchase an item I was already buying.  So, here’s the real question I am coming to … if we can all get used to Google’s algorithms reading our private emails and serving ads against them, then won’t we all get used to identity targeting schemes like Facebook’s beacon as well?  What do you think?

Update (12/11/07)Seth Godin just posted about privacy online asking a similar question …

7 thoughts on “How Much Does Online Privacy Matter To You?”

  1. Privacy matters a lot for me. I hardly used facebook, and the profile I created contains merely wrong information and no pictures. I try to use mail to provide my real identity to friends so they do not reject invitations. Paranoid? Maybe, I’m even making a plug-in which generates false queries on Google to manage my search profile (
    In fact, I think I have nothing to hide. But if I’m wrong… it’ll be too late.
    Why most people don’t care about privacy? Because they do not realize they already lost it. Ask tabloid’s favorite targets how much they care about privacy and you’ll have a different point of view. How should feel AOL clients whose queries have been released last year? Some of them should not be very proud now.
    Do I really care if my yesterday queries are released today ? No. But what if my ten years old queries are released? During last ten years, I may have changed my opinion. And as Richelieu said: “Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him.”

    But the real question is, why do they care so much about our privacy when simply letting us manage our profile is not so hard and could avoid them to appear so intrusive? Not sure the information we’ll remove will make ads irrelevant.

    Should have a look on Google master plane video. (available on youtube 🙂

  2. You’ve hit the right note. Just this morning, I logged onto facebook and saw an invitation to “Social Chat” application from a friend. Out of curiosity, I installed it and I was dumbstruck for a moment when a private message popped up on my screen asking me for, A/S/L

    A/S/L has been out of the online dialog for the last 8 years atleast. Atleast out of my dialog. I was frankly, a little freaked and worried that I had too much personal information on facebook.

    Privacy is important to me, more so now than ever because it is so easy to find information about me. All the digital turds we’ve spread on the internet are easily collated on place like

    I’m curious to see what others think.

  3. Hi Rohit.

    I agree that most people lessen their personal “privacy settings” when joining a social network. Implicitly, they have agreed to share their information with members of that network (and with the network’s advertisers).

    Most people, however, have little idea how much information they have left floating in the online data cloud. Beacon forced some people to calculate what information they had in fact released since completing an online transaction, joining a 2.0 app then abandoning it, or sending messages to a Usenet group in 1994.

    The idea of an online identity should be separated from your identity as a member of a social network. Your online identity is composed of many, many separate negotiations with online suppliers, databases and communities. Most online users may not have an accurate or even approximate idea of the extent of their online identity.

    Algorithms are capable of making associations between online memberships, friendships and transactions that we never would have thought possible – and that is why Beacon was so jarring to a number of people.

    By the way, we have prepared a video on the implications social networking may have on your online identity:

    Colin McKay
    Director of Communications
    Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

  4. Hi!!!!!
    Online privacy is the key factor in any online business and if the software we use is not updated then we are up to some serious problems.Online marketing business primarily depends on the factor of secure money tranfer.


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About Rohit

A keynote speaker on trends, innovation, marketing, storytelling and diversity.

Rohit Bhargava is on a mission to inspire more non-obvious thinking in the world. He is the #1 Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of eight books and is widely considered one of the most entertaining and original speakers on disruption, trends and marketing in the world.

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