Monday, 3 December 2007

Online Privacy Abuses Will Ruin The Web

I'm a bit surprised at some of the people who have come out saying that they think the whole Facebook privacy issue is over blown (see here, here and here). For some it might be a matter of not caring about what they consider their mundane data and for others they might have concerns over the heavily reliance that many online businesses have on online advertising.

Truth is, marketers have always oversold online advertising targeting and tracking as the Webs holy grail. And let's face it, ad supported services have been at the heart of so many ‘free’ things that we take for granted.

I've blithered on (in four postings in the last week no less) about the privacy issues and potential abuses of people's data, so i won't beat that particular drum again. Let me come at this in a completely different way - as a marketer.

Peter and I wrote an article for strategy magazine a long time ago about why marketers and advertisers should be concerned about customers' online privacy. The premise? If we don't care, the legislators will.

When companies and agencies start to cross lines without any thoughts to their responsibilities as corporate citizens, the public starts to get nervous and starts to question if their personal freedoms are being trodden upon. When that happens, inevitably someone stands up and says, dang, we better make a law for this!

This is how the European privacy laws were created and similarly here in Canada with bill C-6. When we don't play nice, it's the governments job to try and make us. Do we really want that? Will they understand what things are about privacy and what things are just stupid? What things would protect people and what things would just ruin the Web?

In the end if we want to ensure a sustainable Web ecosystem that works for both people and business, we have to find the right balance between customers best interest and our own marketing self interest. And if we can't someone else will surely make us.

update: ..and when you thought it couldn't get worse, it does. So much for being able to just leave the service. Read this Facebook's Beacon Ad System Also Tracks Non-Facebook Users.


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