The PRISM furore has reignited people's fear of being tracked online. Somehow - in part thanks to the media - people's ire has been largely directed at the private companies named as participating in the monitoring, rather than the government agencies.
The PRISM furore has reignited people’s fear of being tracked online. Somehow - in part thanks to the media - people’s ire has been largely directed at the private companies named as participating in the monitoring, rather than the government agencies.
This seems a little unfair, given that it is unproven that Google, Facebook et al have participated at all and even if they have, it is likely to have been under duress.
Given CANDDi’s expertise with the technologies of online tracking I was asked to help the BBC in putting together a piece on exactly what data can be gleaned about people from their online behaviour.
As ever with these debates I find myself stressing the positives of online tracking for consumers. It is all made to sound so sinister, and when it comes to secret monitoring of people by state agencies with no proof of suspicion I would agree: that’s a breach of privacy. But most of the time private enterprises only track you for the very best of reasons.
A Man Walks Into a Pub…
Let me give an offline example that I always come back to. Everyone likes to have a local pub, butcher, or newsagent where they have a relationship with the person behind the counter. They don’t need to know a lot about you - maybe your name, your kids’ names, your favourite football team, and your favourite products - in order to have a dramatic impact on how good the service feels.
If you walk into your local pub and the landlord starts pulling your pint of choice, says hello to you by name, asks after your kids and gives you a bit of banter about your team, it feels like a much more pleasurable, personalised experience. Now there are good financial reasons for him or her to do this: you are likely to come back more. But unless you’re very unusual, you will enjoy it too. Everyone wins.
All most companies are trying to do with tracking is replicate this experience in a manner that works online. There’s no doubting we’re not yet as comfortable with machines monitoring us as people, but I strongly believe that is a generational issue that will pass, as long as companies use the technology in a way that is responsible and that delivers real benefits for consumers.
Maintaining Trust, Building Value
Just remember every time you read a story about online privacy, tracking and cookies: there are threats out there, but they are vastly outweighed by the benefits. The last thing most companies will do is risk damaging the trust relationship they have with customers. So by all means be conscious of how you’re data’s being used, but give us a chance to improve your online experience by making it more tailored to you.