With the proliferation of the internet and the growing number of users of social media, one is often confronted with the question: what about privacy? The relatively new adage “what happens on the internet, stays on the internet” is indeed true. Are we comfortable that Google, Facebook and other such aggregators of information – be it public or private – will not use it for corporate gains. Controversies around J. Edgar Hoover’s tactics come to mind. Or, are we heading towards a world such as the one depicted in CBS’s crime drama “Person of Interest?” Here are a few very real scenarios that can happen to any of us.
Facebook Graph Search – As an active user of Facebook, you probably heard the recent announcement from Mark Zuckerberg that a beta version of this application is being rolled out in the US. Graph Search helps you look up anything shared on Facebook by your friends and their extended circle of friends. Such searches will find pictures, videos, and other posts that they may have chosen to hide from their timeline.
A couple of examples of what you can find are shown here. The information appears to be passive enough. I did not know that my friend Hans liked Talking Heads and AC/DC, nor my nephew who lives in San Francisco liked Bubba Gump restaurant. What I chose not to show here include the ages of some of my female friends that came up without me having to search for it.
Smartphone Retail Analytics: As marketers zero in on customer loyalty and engagement as the primary target of their promotions, retail analytics is beginning to play a vital role. As you sit in your favourite coffee shop and enjoy delectable treats as the ones shown below, a combination of appliances and Wi-Fi networks analyze you and your shopping patterns.
Based on the unique device that you own, the analytics can show if you are a new or a repeat customer; how long you typically spend in the store; what web sites you browse while you are there; and what you typically order. Some of the applications can go so far as to identify if you walked past the store without going in, and send you a targeted message indicating that your favourite brew is on sale that day. It can also show if the tenant living on the floor above the store has been freeloading over the stores’ Wi-Fi connection. Would you consider this a violation of privacy, or customer engagement?
Signing up for new applications and web tools using your social media profile: Today’s burgeoning e-commerce business requires every customer to create an online profile which identifies that person as a unique customer. The choice is often comes down to filling out an elaborate online form, or using Facebook or Twitter ID to sign in.
Sounds innocuous enough, until the application pops up a message that says that it will have full access to your Facebook/Twitter timeline and may post on your behalf! This one does come down to the level of tolerance you have for trading privacy for convenience and occasionally, monetary gains like discounts and special offers.
Employers seeking access to employees’ social media passwords: This issue has created enough noise within online communities and blogosphere that Facebook and Governmental agencies have stepped in crying foul. Whetting out a prospective employee by asking him or her to include the hiring manager as a “friend” on Facebook sounds extreme. While this appears to be a gross violation of privacy, to date, only six states in the US have passed laws that make this practice illegal. Employers argue that access to employee accounts will enable them to track the misuse of company supplied devices like laptops and smart phones, and the use of social media during work hours.
Surveillance Cameras in public places: When was the last time you gave a surveillance camera in a store or an office building a second look? From corner stores to street corners, surveillance cameras have become a fact of life in big cities. Collectively, we probably feature in hours of video recorded by various security conscious businesses and government departments. Have you wondered what happens to these videos? A recent article in CBC News titled “Store video cameras failing to comply with privacy laws” exposed the fact that most establishments in Canada, especially in the retail sector, are in violation of federal guidelines associated with the operation of video surveillance cameras. If you are interested in knowing more about this, check out the website SurveillanceRights, set up by Andrew Clement and his students at the University of Toronto.
So how concerned are you? Should we be adopting a savoir-faire attitude to this eventuality? On the positive side, I recently read an article that suggested that spring break antics by teenagers had shown a marked drop compared to a few years ago. Fear of being caught on a smart phone and ending up on the ubiquitous social media were mentioned as the primary reasons for this controlled behaviour. If you go by Katy Perry’s line – pictures of last night ended up online, I am screwed – some folks may still have to learn the hard way!
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