“We are all little brothers”

In 1949, George Orwell published 1984, a classic tale of government oppression of ideas and freedoms, characterized by loss of privacy on a massive scale.  The famous quote ‘Big Brother is watching you’ warns the citizens that little they do in their private lives will escape the scrutiny of the totalitarian regime.

Fast forward to 2007: Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Soddart, is raising the alarm on privacy.  Ubiquitous cameras and video recorders, combined with an increasingly cavalier attitude about what can be posted online, are undermining our privacy in ways even Mr. Orwell couldn’t have imagined.

Says Ms. Stoddart: “It’s not just Big Brother who’s akin to a government watching you in the Orewllian dystopia.  We’re all little brothers.  We’re all fascinated with the gadgets that allow you to do this.”

Are we all little brothers, immaturely wandering our neighborhoods, snapping pictures of whatever catches our eye and posting it to Flickr within minutes?  Are all the little brothers out there taking hours of video, hoping for something scandalous to happen so it can be captured and posted to YouTube for all to see?

And while 1984’s Winston Smith was fearful of the Ministry of Truth, in today’s world should we be wary of each other?


Privacy and the customer

I attended a rather good security and privacy conference earlier this year in Victoria, BC, and one of the presenters made some very interesting observations on privacy.  David Skillicorn from Queen’s University presented ‘Businesses, Customers and Relationship’

 There are some real insights in this material and if you get a chance to see this fellow’s presentation in person, don’t miss it.  Here are some of the more interesting ideas that Mr. Skillicorn offered up:

1. Privacy is new, it didn’t existing until the last century or so.  In fact, while privacy is now considered a right in most societies, throughout human history it barely even existed as a concept.

2. Consumers get better product and service offerings when a company knows something about them.  Product offerings can be tailored, discounts offered.  What information would you give up to get a $10 off grocery coupon?

3. Consumers consider companies to be ‘friends’ and want to develop long-lasting relationships (really!).  Trust plays a significant role in whether this relationship continues, and privacy breaches can effectively destroy that trust.  A growing number of data breaches is proving this to be true — one estimate I heard at the conference was that a mis-handled data breach could cause a company to lose 20 to 25% of its customers!

He summarized by saying that businesses need to understand that while data is very easy to collect from their customers, the company’s data use and protection policies must be strong to ensure future breaches of trust do not occur.  This, in theory, should drive more responsible data mining and data management practices.

My guess is that it will take some time before quarterly-results-obsessed marketers come to this realization.  As a result, the frequency and severity of data breaches will increase in the next few years…