Why are we concerned about privacy?

By August 20, 2007 6 Comments

This post has been forming in the back of my mind since I read Privacy and Personalisation: From Clickstream to Targeted Advertising on Read/Write web last week.  I was waiting until I met with Luke Razzell this morning to discuss the final two posts in our identity and startups series to make sure there wasn’t any overlap – there isn’t, so here we go.

For a long time I have thought that concerns about privacy are overdone – or more specifically that the benefits to be had from sharing some personal information far outweigh the risks.  If you have been reading this blog for a while you will have seen that thought as a recurring theme.  It is a issue that is at once critically important to predicting the future and difficult to do much more than guess at.

I will borrow the question from Helen on Technokitten:

Will the prospect of privacy become irrelevant as the myspace generation start to do the jobs we’re doing now?

Answer – YES – (and apologies for choosing the question to get the answer I wanted).

This is where the Read/Write web post comes in.  I’m going to take three brilliantly simple and clear quotes which convey all bar one of the reasons why it is my guess that privacy will diminish as an issue.

Firstly, these are emotional concerns, not rational ones:

Many times over the past few years I had conversations where people asked: But what about privacy? My answer is always: What exactly are you concerned about? The majority of people just worry about privacy as a word; they can’t express what it is that worries them. It is a conservative, mostly uninformed behavior: “I just don’t want them to know about me.”

Secondly, when you look at it there isn’t much to be worried about:

The good news about the people stalking our online behavior? They don’t want to hurt us, they just want our money. The reason retailers want to know our private information is because they want sell us things.

And finally, people are already showing they will give up on privacy pretty easily:

It is particularly odd to hear privacy concerns and then login into Facebook and see people putting everything about themselves in their profiles.

The final reason, and one that isn’t brought out explicitly in the Read/Write Web post is that sharing a little personal information is good for you.  It will allow advertisers to market to you more effectively, which increases the CPMs they can pay to your favourite sites who will then have more money to invest in improving their service to you.