KeystoneATX: Privacy and Personalisation and Data, Oh My!

I had the pleasure of participating in Keystone Solution’s first ever Speaker Series in Austin TX this week, and wanted to share a few takeaways from the day.

The focus of the event was on privacy, or, more specifically, how we can create relevant experiences for users without stalking. It was a great opportunity to hear different viewpoints and consider my own, and I took away a number of valuable takeaways:

1. Education of users is critical, to allow them to make informed decisions about whether the benefits they’re receiving are sufficient for them to consent to tracking. It is important that decisions not be made out of misinformation and fear.

2. But the crux of users’ issues with privacy tends to center around control. Users are made to feel they are being “held ransom” (“We have your data!”) and the uproar that takes place normally follows removing control from users. (For example, Facebook changes that make information (retroactively) public by default, or persistent cookies that override user choice to delete.)

3. Not too long ago, there was fear about buying online. While privacy concerns may never disappear, over time (and with education and control options) people may start to get more comfortable with tracking, just as they did with online shopping.

4. No one had the “magic bullet” for easing user privacy concerns, but there were really two threads emerging – 1) Concern about government regulation, due to the nuance of the issues. If legislators are not educated enough to distinguish between types of tracking, types of data, and the distinction between collection and use, blanket measures are likely to result. 2) Industry self-regulation will require a widespread commitment, as one company, vendor or individual can create a great deal of negative publicity. (And likely then lead to regulation.)

5. Tracking and personalisation get creepy when you’re doing it for the brand’s benefit, not the consumers. The best brands use data to make you feel special. However, too many companies don’t trust that doing things the right way will pay off, and try to take shortcuts or rely on the “magic bullet”

6. Those collecting data and members of the analytics industry need to act as stewards of the data (and signing the WAA Code of Ethics is a great start!)

7. Most seemed to agree that while the issue has become tracking, the focus should be on data use rather than collection. (You don’t arrest someone for murder because they have a gun and motive… they have to take action.)

8. Similarities to offline were discussed (for example, grocery store loyalty/discount cards, cable box and ISP tracking.) But the question is, are users aware of all of this tracking? The internet is not necessarily causing privacy concerns, but online tracking is simply more public. In a way, online tracking might even be raising awareness of the offline tracking that takes place.

9. There is often an argument of, “If you don’t like tracking, don’t visit the website.” However, is this reasonable? Is it truly consent if you don’t really have a choice? For example, you either submit to TSA procedures or never fly, which may even be required for a person’s job. Similarly, reading Terms and Conditions of software gives you only the choice to not use it – you have no option to negotiate with the company about those terms.

10. There is a gap between user privacy concerns and the amount of social sharing that users are doing. The responses to Facebook changes really show the kind of ownership that people feel over their Facebook experience, and that users forget that ultimately, they’re playing in Zuckerberg’s sandbox, not their own. Users will need to keep in mind that no matter the network, if it’s on the internet, it could be public, and exercise caution in sharing.

11. In the end, users want more control over their privacy, but the appropriate mechanism for that has not been figured out. Users may be willing to share data with some sites and not others, and allow personally identifiable information to some companies and not others. (For example, maybe I trust Zappos but not ShoezWarehouze.) But how do we allow control of these levels of privacy without creating a complicated, unusable system of permissions?

In the end, no one had the solution, but that’s not really the point. This will be an ever-evolving process, and it’s important we talk through the issues, to ensure we don’t over simplify in our desire to solve for the benefit of all.

And just for laughs, a few quotes of the day:

  • “Privacy is a mean ass topic” – @EvanLaPointe
  • Emer is scared of her “bottom” being invaded by the US government. (Re: TSA measures)  – @Exxx
  • “I wouldn’t mind the government being involved if I didn’t think they’d fail miserably!” – @Jenn_Kunz
  • “Common sense is not terribly common” – @jdaysy
  • “If only ‘good tracking’ and ‘bad tracking’ were as easily understood as ‘good touching’ and ‘bad touching’”  – @aprilewilson
  • “We have an unsexy community. Well, everyone here is sexy, but you know what I mean…” – @keithburtis
  • “At @KeystoneSocial, we make sushi unhealthy.” – @mgellis
  • The @KeystoneSocial motto: “Tread softly and carry a Kyle.” – @mgellis


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