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Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Although we may not have completely answered Wharton’s four questions from yesterday’s post, my conclusion that business and government have now moved on from serious concerns over consumer privacy due to the apathetic mood of the public is partial acknowledgment, but probably highly controversial to many. But if you think I am overreacting, why have we had 32 personal data breaches already in the month of January, 2008; the loss or theft of credit card and Social Security numbers in 2007 was at record levels; and consumers are so confused over the information they do receive they are rushing to pay for ID theft protection they should be receiving from the company or government agency collecting their private information? Returning to the Wharton study, there is comment on Google’s scanning of its Gmail service to determine what you have discussed, as well as to block viruses. This is “creepy” according to Casey Corr in Also mentioned is Microsoft’s new HealthVault service, with which I have had a direct connection. I signed up for HealthVault and asked the question: “What level of encryption does HealthVault utilize to prevent someone from breaching the database that holds my personal health records?” I finally received a vague answer from the customer service representative explaining the most secure systems available for first my sending of the data, then Microsoft’s handling of that data. Although he says he doesn’t know for sure, he is certain MS uses the “best the industry has to offer.” I don’t know about you, but that’s not good enough for me. Wharton marketing professor, Z. John Zhang talks about companies assembling the data in-house that they collect from you online to form profiles and lifestyle habits resulting in the creation of an aura of Big Brother. Zhang laments over our lack of concern losing a little privacy here and a little privacy there, which the consumers seems not to notice. But it all does add up and all of a sudden we’re looking at Orwell’s 1984. Back to Joseph Turow, director of the Information and Society Program at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) at the University of Pennsylvania, he thinks transparency in what information is collected and how it is used, although unlikely, is probably the answer. But no data collector is likely to do that since it scares the consumer, who would then opt out. But Turow finally hits on the right approach, one I have been advocating for the last three years in this blog. He says: “There is a hybrid approach where companies could have an 'opt-in only' policy and pay customers for information and insight.” An inducement, Zhang adds. Yes, the answer is to give consumers control over their names and personal data, and compensate them when it is sold. Why is it so hard for business and government to come to grips with this concept?

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