Privacy & Security 2 min. read

Striking a balance between personalization and online privacy

Striking a balance between personalization and online privacy

Right now, companies are facing something of a conundrum: how to provide goods and services that are tailored to an individual’s needs and interests while respecting their right for privacy.

For example: Our homes are now filled with smart assistants like Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple HomePod. These devices ‘talk’ to other internet-enabled devices, with the goal being to add convenience, personalization, and to generally make our lives better.

To offer this convenience, however, the user sacrifices privacy. Smart assistants, for instance, are recording a person’s conversations throughout the day. Smart TVs also listen in to see how people interact with ads. And many of the apps on our phones right now are tracking our location in order to better personalize content.

This is an issue that many have grappled with: Personalization has the potential to make our lives better, but at what cost?

To better understand the issue, we spoke to several security experts.

First up: Steve Morgan, the founder and Editor-in-Chief at Cybersecurity Ventures, a leading researcher and publisher specializing in cybersecurity.

Q: We’ve seen consumers express a growing desire for privacy, while also demanding more personalized goods and services. How should brands reconcile these two contradictory demands?

“Brands should directly ask consumers, in a much more overt way (no fine print!) for permission to deliver personalized information,” Morgan says, highlighting one of the biggest issues we face right now: a lack of transparency around how the data collected about us is used.

“There’s always an alternative, no matter how big you are,” Morgan continued. “For example, Yahoo Mail users (after they were hacked) have switched to Gmail and other email services.”

To Morgan’s point, if consumers feel like a company employs shady tactics to exploit their data, or they can’t protect their data adequately enough, there are always other alternatives. Companies need to realize that, while selling user data is immensely profitable, it will come at the expense of users.

“If someone walks into a store, they expect to be safe, and they are not under surveillance except for potential security cameras designed to catch thieves,” says Morgan. “People want the same experience online.”

Q: What information are consumers willing to give up, and what do they get in exchange?

“Brands can’t make assumptions,” Morgan says. “Some consumers are willing to give up much more than others. There can be certain demographics such as the elderly where they aren’t informed and may be willing to give up more — but that doesn’t mean brands should take it. All major brands should have a privacy council made up in part by outsiders to help make sure they’ve got the right policies in place.”

In short, there’s a reason the debate is ongoing. Not every consumer is the same. Some value personalization more than others, and therefore will give up more in return. What’s clear is that this conversation needs more ears, and we must demand corporations adhere to higher standards. After all, striking that balance is beneficial to everyone—consumers and businesses alike.

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