Is privacy dead?

I recently attended a conference at which I and the other attendees were asked, 'Are you prepared to give up privacy (read: data) in exchange for more security?' The public answered, 'Shouldn't the question be whether we are prepared to give up privacy in exchange for more service?' That struck me as a very interesting question, and one which different groups of people will probably have very different answers to.

Big data is big business

In recent years it has become clear that in the modern world, everything revolves around having knowledge and information. Facebook and Google have grown huge by collecting data. They know exactly what someone is doing, when they are doing it and why. This knowledge is then sold commercially to parties such as advertisers. And it's not just the internet giants – other parties are also responding to these developments. By gathering information, you are better able to anticipate the questions your customers have or will have. The CRM systems are working all out to collect and analyse all the available information.

Service through customer awareness

The initial purpose of collecting information is to improve service. For instance, if a car rental company sees that you always rent a small hatchback, they know not to offer you an estate car. And the same is true for your preferred seat in an aeroplane – if you have always asked for an aisle seat, you will probably also want an aisle seat on future flights. This kind of information collection is relatively innocent, and you will probably even experience it as a good thing. But it can also be taken too far.

Where are we going?

Because more and more information is being collected and linked, businesses know a lot about their clients and customers – including some things you may not be aware of. Behind that innocent customer card at the supermarket is a gigantic database listing all the purchases you have ever made. Link this database to that of an airline, and you may well be served your favourite meal on your flight to Brazil. In the future, the music you listen to on Spotify might be linked to the in-flight entertainment system so you can watch your favourite artists' concerts during your flight. These are just a few examples of what may well become reality in the future.

Are you prepared to give up privacy in exchange for more service?

You have already given up a lot of privacy without knowing it. For instance, Google knows everything about you on the basis of your search behaviour; and by accepting cookies on websites you are giving access to your online behaviour to the organizations behind those websites. There are already some airlines where the crew carries tablets or smartphones as they walk through the plane. They can assist you better if they know more about you. The consequence is that the air hostess may well suddenly congratulate you on your new job, because you have shared it on LinkedIn.

What answer would you give to the question I heard at the conference? Are you prepared to give up privacy in exchange for more service, and where would you draw the line? I look forward to hearing your opinion.

Bas de Smit
Bas de Smit
Result & Conversation Manager
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