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Is Privacy a Lost Cause?


Posted by on September 22, 2010

No doubt privacy has been quite a controversial and popular topic as of late, especially when it comes to Facebook.  The common thread that we hear about is that people want to own their information and control it.  We don’t want advertisers to take our public information and use it as a way to market or advertise to us.  Sites like Facebook are making our personal information more and more accessible to the world and the world is fighting back to keep things private and secure.  Is it only a matter of time before privacy becomes a non-issue?  I read an article recently which actually shocked me quite a bit (I tried to find the article but unfortunately I couldn’t).  The article profiled heavily trafficked large websites (for example ESPN, Conde Nast Properties, Yahoo, and many many others) and found all of these sites were infected with specific tracking programs (unbeknown to the companies) which were embedded via advertising on the site.  In many cases there were dozens and even hundreds of tracking programs placed onto a single site.  Again, these large sites had NO IDEA these programs were installed collecting customer information.  Oftentimes companies say they don’t collect information about people who visit or participate on a particular site but it’s not always the company you need to worry about but the third party folks out there that are operating incognito.  Once your information is already mined and collected it’s out, that’s it, nothing you can do.

So the question is will privacy really matter in the future?  With over 550 million users world wide on Facebook there is clearly A LOT of information that exists on all of us, and that’s just Facebook.  What happens when the users base crosses the 1 billion mark?  What about 2 billion?  Information is being mined, gathered, and analyzed by hundreds of companies and platforms from basic monitoring tools to more sophisticated programs.  I think we may get to a point where the privacy battle is no longer going to matter, it’s just going to be accepted that whatever you put online is going to be public for the world to see or use.  If you want to think about something really scary, think about much information your phone knows about you (moreso if it’s a smartphone).  Your phone is the closes thing you can come to walking around with a micro-chip installed in your body which collects everything from your physical location to your personal preferences.

It’s already quite amazing what you can do online to find people.  A basic Google search will tell me pretty much anything I need to know about you…literally.

There are two types of privacy concerns in my opinion.  Anonymous privacy and personal privacy.

Anonymous privacy is where sites collect your information such as demographics, purchasing behavior, and sites visited but do not tie it back to you as an individual.  Instead this information is used to put you into a “bucket” with other people like you so that you can receive more targeted marketing.

Personal privacy is where sites collect your information but are able to collect everything about you as an individual, meaning you are not anonymous.  The company knows that “Jacob Morgan” visited X, purchased Y, lives on Z, likes Q, etc.  This is the type of privacy concern which people are obviously having the biggest issue with but again, I think it’s probably a fruitless battle in the long run.

There are simply too many people sharing information online and too many companies mining and going through that data to have it stay private forever.  However, this does bring up the possibility of a new business model which is buying back your privacy or your life online.  So for example, would pay $10/month to keep your information secure and private so that nobody can publicly search, mine, or access your information?  I ask this question at conferences when I speak and every time I get more and more people that raise their hands.

Recently the Chief of Interpol had his Faccebook page hacked and had confidential information stolen.  Not too long ago we also saw a woman lose her medical benefits over Facebook pictures that she posted.  She was apparently depressed but the insurance company saw pictures of her on Facebook relaxing on the beach and deemed her NOT depressed as a result.

What do you think?  What’s going to happen with privacy in the future?  Is this a battle worth fighting or are we simply delaying the inevitable?

At this point I think the best way to ensure your privacy is by moving to a remote island with all your friends and family where you can grow your own food and sustain yourself without any type of technology…maybe just an Iphone…oh wait, darn it!

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  • http://twitter.com/anneecarson Annie Carson

    It is so hard to tell where the future of privacy is going to take us. As a society, we have become so paranoid (and rightfully so) about who knows what about us. In reality, however, hiding everything about yourself is nearly impossible considering the advancements in technology and the internet's amazing capabilities (which are advancing at such a rapid pace!). There is a social networking site that was created a year or so ago called We, Our Family… it promotes secure and private networking, but limits the contact to those who are closest to you. You also have to pay a yearly fee ($22) to ensure that security and privacy (they don't have advertisements on the site). I think it is important that we all protect ourselves, but at the same time, it is a little unrealistic to think you can keep your information hidden forever, especially in today's world.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      I've actually never heard of that network before but it's an interesting concept. Pay money for something like facebook with a guarantee that your information remains private. Suppose it makes sense as long as the network can cover costs with the subscription fees. Next few years will be very interesting indeed and I agree it's becoming harder and harder to keep information hidden, soon that will become impossible. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Ed

    Clearly this is a scary new world we're about to enter.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      Should be interesting though!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dom-Phillips/100001402452453 Dom Phillips

    Privacy is definitely something that should be valued at the same time maybe this is just means we should be more careful about the information we put up about us online.

  • naeem

    don,t distrub here isak47

  • asma

    privay is good work in life
    because should be interesting thought
    don,t distrub here privay