Some months back I wrote about the phenomenon of privacy on the Internet. I say “phenomenon” because thats what it is, a notion whose definition is highly dependent on ones perception of it. Something like when a former Supreme Court Justice said about pornography, “I cant define it, but I know it when I see it.”
The same can be said about privacy. Everybody has his or her own definition of what it is. Sun CEO Scott McNealy has his (“There is none, get over it”); I have mine (its the first thing people will give up if they think they can be famous); and you have yours.
Most likely, you want to protect your privacy but are unsure of exactly what its boundaries are. Could it be that you dont want your credit card data available to hackers over the Internet? Thats a no-brainer. But what about the more insidious invasions that occur every day from telemarketers, catalog vendors and e-mail spam?
After I bought my house I received calls from vendors of all sorts trying to sell services to the new homeowner. How did they know I just bought a house? By checking the public listings in the paper.
The problem with a lack of consensus is that until we come to an agreement there will be little done in the way of protecting individuals from unwanted corporate invasions. Thats exactly the wrong scenario for American businesses, which should proactively be seeking ways to ensure that the individuals who come in contact with them dont feel their rights are being violated by that contact.
An e-business consultant I spoke with took that a step further: Make privacy part of your business model. “The leader,” said Kristin Valente of Ernst & Youngs Innovative Solutions Group, will ask, “how can I do the right thing and comply [with privacy regulations] and then turn that into a competitive advantage?”
You can bet that until corporations really embrace that idea, little will be done to protect privacy—whatever its definition.