“You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it! (Scott McNealy, 1999)
Merriam-webster.com defines oxymoron to mean a combination of contradictory or incongruous words, such as, jumbo shrimp or lead ballon. We enjoy oxymorons so much: many websites exist just to collect examples that enable us to use these figures of speech to illustrate irony, sarcasm or the unexpected, such as, Mike and Phil as leaders are perfect idiots.
Why is data privacy on my shortlist to be added to the list of oxymorons?
It is a contradictory term. It describes
– Rules – laws and regulations – to protect consumer data.
– Uses – how organizations can make money using private data.
These two intents can run at cross-purposes. Commercial use can compromise personally identifiable data. Protective rules compromise commercial uses and commercial uses compromise protective measures.
One bittersweet example illustrates:
I recall reading contemporaneous news accounts regarding the original website for the Affordable Care Act, Healthcare.gov. That site intentionally or unintentionally shared users’ personally identifiable information with third parties. The stated purpose for such arrangements was to use this data to improve user experiences. This arrangement violated the government’s own data privacy policies, which proves my point: Data privacy is an oxymoron.
Our daily lives are characterized by constant data generation through online behaviors and transactions. The resulting tsunami of data is valuable. Companies use sophisticated algorithms to collect and analyze it. Many call this business function commercial surveillance. It tracks our every movement, monitors our likes and dislikes, and develops marketable profiles that predict and influence our future behaviors and transactions.
Our commercial and legal systems err on the side of business (as in digital marketplaces) rather than the individual. In other words, there is a constant tug of war between the conveniences of technology and the privacy risks that people accept to obtain these conveniences. Recall, news reports alleging regulators assessing hefty fines upon companies, such as Facebook or Youtube, for their mishandling of users’ data and extracting assurances for increased oversight.
Are these types of actions punitive or remedial?
Did Facebook or Youtube suffer significant market repercussions, such as, a drop in data usage, revenue streams or even number of users?
What is the deceptively honest answer?
Data privacy encompasses protective rules that compromise commercial uses, and those commercial uses compromise the protective measures. Thus, developing privacy frameworks and protocols and also at some point paying data privacy fines is a business expense. Companies will continue to manage users’ data in the course of business and in response to privacy concerns produce and revise lengthy data collection and use practice policies: many so complicated they even confuse their own employees.
Stay tuned for my next post, in this series, detailing a number of things going on trying to create a better border between personal privacy and commercial exploitation.