Privacy: Fight for it

FRAMINGHAM (03/27/2000) - A Boston Globe columnist recently asked: "Is anybody really shocked anymore at how much marketers know about all of us?" Shocked?

No. Appalled, yes. The columnist treats privacy like a joke, an antiquated concept in the face of technological advances. He says privacy is a nonissue, and he sees a benefit via personalization that targets his needs and saves him time.

That's fine - if that's a trade-off he's willing to accept. I'm not, and I am not alone. Privacy is not something you swap for convenience. We should fight like hell to hang on to what's left of it.

It amazes me that the same people who object to being followed around a department store don't mind if they are followed all over the Net. They would probably object if a prospective employer cruised through their credit and medical histories, but are blasé about having their every drugstore purchase online or having their medical information recorded and packaged up for sale.

How is this different? If anything, it's more insidious.

Privacy is a big deal - online and off-line. Just look at its impact on the amount of people expected to fill out the census. People don't believe the data will be kept confidential. Imagine!

The latest buzz is about building technology to build "trust relationships" with consumers. Except that trust involves being totally up front with the consumer about what data is collected and what you are planning to do with it and, oh yeah, allowing them to opt out of providing that data. OK, so they won't get targeted missives and a special page just for them, but they can still search the site on their own if that's how they want to waste their time.

Seems fair to me.

After all, it's my time, and it ought to be my decision.

Sites like WinWin.com are on the right track. They make no bones about wanting your data, but they leave it up to you to participate, and they reward you if you do.

Meanwhile, does anyone else find it ironic that Europe - that hotbed of socialism and cradle-to-grave government programs, is the one standing up for consumer rights to privacy, while our legislators are ducking the issue?

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