Privacy Confusion

By Henry Bagdasarian

We can’t help but to notice that there seems to be a privacy confusion in our society when we read the news or participate in identity theft discussion forums. On one hand, every one seems to agree that we all want to define and protect our privacy rights by implementing regulations, issuing privacy notices, and assigning privacy officers to protect the rights of customers, and yet most of us are willing to give up at least some of these rights for safety, security and other personal gains.

We all know how lack of privacy at various businesses and most importantly at the social networking sites such as Facebook is affecting the consumer desire to continue using these services as they become more educated and aware of the risks of sharing their personal information with websites, businesses, and others.

Most social networking sites make money by selling advertising and advertisers want to spend their money wisely by carefully targeting consumers who are more likely to buy their products. As such websites are more likely and willing to share their customer information with advertisers to help them target consumers based on their specific criteria. For businesses, this is just part of the business survival strategy and nothing personal, but as consumers notice the ads which appear to match their thoughts (which they have shared online), they start to understand that this is not happening by luck or accident but rather with a highly sophisticated marketing and advertising strategy which must violate consumer privacy to be successful. We also know that governments are also monitoring our emails, phone conversations and internet activities looking for potential terrorism red flags. While as consumers, we do not know to what extent our privacy is maintained or violated, the required balance for maintaining total privacy vs. giving up some privacy for security or other benefits such as the chance to win an iPod or vacation is to some extent a personal choice which increases our collective privacy confusion.

While we use various communication tools to share information such as the Internet, email, phone, letters and applications, we have to assume that our personal thoughts and information will be shared, logged and monitored. Businesses will risk everything including facing a privacy lawsuit to make money and satisfy their shareholder expectations while they decide to deal with privacy issues later. Also, governments which issue privacy regulations to protect consumers will violate the same regulations in the name of security and safety although they may not have other alternatives.

I think that privacy confusion will get worse before it gets better and it is extremely difficult to agree upon privacy rights and maintain a privacy balance that take into consideration our tolerance for authorized sharing of our personal information and personal gains we receive in exchange.

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