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Consumer Privacy: The Balancing Act of the Information Age
March 27, 2012
Mercator Advisory Group
The world has entered the information age, and there is no turning back. Mobile banking, social media, “the cloud,” and personally identifiable information (PII) were some of the most prevalent topics of discussion at this year’s IAPP Global Privacy Summit. Formal presentations and casual discussions both called attention to the fact that technology will continue to foster the dissemination and analysis of data whether we like it or not. For those of you who value privacy, there is good news. As a society we get to choose how technological innovation should be allowed to alter how we think about privacy.
Conferences like the National Privacy Summit play a vital role in this process. Not only do they increase awareness of the most relevant privacy issues, but they bring together professionals from a variety of industries and backgrounds to debate what action needs to be taken.
For those of you who have never heard of “privacy professionals,” they take on the task of analyzing the technological risks to privacy and the steps that should be taken to preserve it. After listening to and talking with a number of them at last week’s conference, here is what I took away:
Without a doubt, privacy is a dynamic issue and professionals and regulators should resist the temptation to use language that may obscure this fact. Thinking of information as public or private, anonymous or personally identifiable promotes a dichotomy that conflicts with the nature of privacy.
Consumers are best served when policy makers understand privacy as falling on a spectrum; its relative position often determined in part by feelings, cultural backgrounds, and the degree to which an individual is aware of relevant risks. The privacy debate is further complicated when these personal attitudes come into contact with other issues including economic interests and national security.
In this context privacy finds a balance between:
The Individual and the state
The consumer and business, and
The societal benefits of sharing and an individual’s right to privacy.
Lastly, privacy professionals, whether lawyers, executives, or regulators, must find a way to express the conclusions of their analysis in a way that respects both the complexity of the issue at hand and a need for effective communication. As a speaker at this year’s conference pointed out, what is said (even if it is correct), is not always what is heard. End user license agreements (EULAs) and privacy policies compromise a consumer’s risk awareness when they become too long or too complicated to read.
Privacy is growing into a profession in its own right, and regulators and corporate officers are taking notice. Over 2,000 professionals attended the Summit this year, making it the largest in the IAPP’s history and the largest privacy conference in the world. New opinions, viewpoints, and perspectives are always needed, however, to support the privacy balancing act.
Contact Michael Misasi
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