The Privacy Paradox

At the Verisign Distinguished Speaker, Vint Cerf, one of the founders of internet technology, told us that privacy is impossible on the internet. It is a huge copy machine with multiple copies of everything ingested, and a quest for increasingly more information.

There is a strange paradox about privacy.

One the one hand, there are things we do not share with even the closest of friends and certainly do not choose to have the information available via the internet.

On the other hand, we cheerfully click away our privacy (and sometimes ownership) by agreeing to the terms of service, volunteer information on-line forms (why does a utility app want to know our family income?), and rush to tag pictures of friends as well as publicly share information about ourselves and others.

Others ignore the tenets of privacy – a friend told me about a local TV personality and film crew greeting him as he entered a store: “ come on in and shop while we film you”. He turned on his heel leaving the store and the intrusive video team.

On my social security card there it says DO NOT use for identification – however, many states and localities, as well as the Federal government, require the social security number as an identifier – even used it as a driver license number.

Privacy is a complicated issue with conflicting demands by the individual and others to protect or disclose information. In addition, violating an individual’s privacy is an emotional issue.

Recall the firestorm caused by Instagram/Facebook changing the terms of service (TOS) to claim ownership of everything posted on their site and the ability to use the information in any public way they chose. The TOS were revised in a couple of days as a result of the public response.

Give out your name, social security number, and mother’s maiden name and you may be sharing your identity with a thief.

As leaders we do not want our organization to be on the wrong side of a privacy issue – best to keep in mind that if we don’t collect it, there’s no possibility of accident or larceny where we’d lose it. Choose carefully what private information you collect on people; if something goes south, expect the response will be magnified by an emotional reaction.

How do you address the privacy paradox?

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