Privacy is a hot topic these days, but do customers really want it?

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By Chris Manley

Ever since the European Union General Data Protection Regulation went into effect in May, it seems that every website I visit has a new privacy policy. Every time one pops up, aside from the frustration of having to click the “x” for it to go away, I wonder, “How many people actually read the privacy policy?”

Privacy is a hot topic these days. Earlier this year, it seemed as though most people were surprised that Facebook was using their personal information. Personally, I was a little surprised at the level of naivete the world appeared to have. I’ve never paid Facebook a dime to use their service, but I’ve always known there had to be a way they were making money. Since all they have is the personal information of users, it seemed natural they would use it.

To many, it just feels creepy. Facebook has so much data on you. Through your likes and heart emojis, they discern what your favorite things happen to be. They know your age, location, hobbies, generally your occupation, political slant, religious beliefs, and more.

Is it a bad thing that they use this information to put ads in front of you that are actually relevant to your likes and dislikes? That seems a lot more relevant than the awkward experience of watching local news as a 20-something and seeing commercials for adult diapers, arthritis medication, and Cialis.

Unless you upgrade to the premium version of services like Spotify and YouTube, advertisements are a fact of life, and even then you still can get ads served up. Which begs the question: Is it better to have them tailored to your interests or to have advertisers that know little about their audience put irrelevant content in front of you that you must watch or listen to in order to continue?

If you want your privacy, you give up ads that might actually be relevant and enjoyable.

Asking for full privacy is the dream of anonymity. It is the equivalent of going into your favorite coffee shop every day and no one knowing your name, recognizing your face, or knowing your order and already having it started. In order for your barista to already know your favorite latte and how to make it the way you prefer, you cede a little bit of your privacy to the aproned, smiling face behind the counter. Being known has its advantages.

When I go online to place my lunch order, my favorite places remember what I frequently order and suggest those items to me, assuming correctly that I enjoyed those items enough to order them multiple times. Had I enlisted the utmost privacy settings, they would have kept none of my information. In fact, I would be forced to input my credit card information every single time I order. Who wants to do that?

When I search for clothes online, one website I used recently remembered my prior searches that included my size information. As a result, it only showed me clothes matching my size. That was a bit refreshing. Do I like that the company knows my dimensions? I’m still on the fence about that one. But it sure was convenient not to re-enter it.

Privacy is a touchy subject. In my experience, very few like the idea of companies knowing vast amounts of personal information about them. However, many enjoy the conveniences that come with sharing our preferences and allowing companies to retain that knowledge. In fact, there is something refreshing about calling the men’s clothing store off Main Street and having them already know what color shirts and suits I own, so they know which new tie would match.

Is letting “the internet” know the same information any different?

Chris Manley is co-founder and CEO of Engenius, a digital marketing agency based in Greenville.

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