Data Issues and the Rapid Evolution of Privacy

We expect companies to know things about us that help us get some things done, but we don’t want them invading our privacy. It’s a delicate balance, but people are obviously willing to give away a lot of information — and they do, everywhere, every day. However, they’re still uneasy because no one really knows the potential implications.

This giant cloud of information continually interacts with artificial intelligence (AI) of many types. Again, people like the benefits AI provides when it works seamlessly, and haven’t seemed to truly object — so far. Until then, the fields are ripe for data harvest.

That all will change if there is a data breach that stings people, either through personal costs or hassle. And that “if” will likely be a “when,” with stings that could spread exponentially as people and systems learn from each other.

One of the few companies trying to raise this issue is Apple. Not only has Apple made iOS11 the first at-scale operating system to auto-block ad tracking, but, long ago, they built in specific software and hardware to prevent personal information (like fingerprint and face recognition) from being broadly shared. Apple’s 2017 letter on differential privacy is definitely worth a read.

Apple sums up their technique this way: They are gaining insight into what many Apple users are doing, while helping to preserve the privacy of individual users. Essentially, they are anonymizing and device-localizing (leaving it in their secure envoy chip) user data and hashing it out to applications and services for use without the ability to track it back to an individual. It isn’t perfect, as Apple is the owner of the parameters alone with zero oversight, but it’s a start.

Brands need to show value and a reason for their customers to stay in the game. The ones that really get ahead on privacy will have front-runner advantage.

Here are some things brands should consider as they face this future:

  • Data collection is a privileged exchange in the user’s eyes. This is only growing in importance. There is equity on both sides to exploit, lose and use (misuse) people’s information. In the exchange of shared information, brands need to clearly show the benefits.
  • A personal privacy margin call is coming from consumers. Companies like Apple are making security and privacy a major part of their brand identity and devices are being positioned to reap the benefits. This is while Amazon and Microsoft collaborate on artificial intelligence. Again, it’s a delicate balance.
  • Millennials (adults between the ages of 22 and 36) are the first generation to understand and act on it. The digitally aware generations are increasingly saying “no” to what Sun Microsystem’s Scott McNealy once said about privacy in 1999: “You have zero privacy anyway; get over it.” Once Gen Z, born after Millennials, hit life stages that make privacy more apparent, they will likely level this up.
  • As AI becomes the “new electricity,” data privacy and tools for control will be the new battlefield for brands, hackers and consumers. A collaborative AI strategy must be at the heart of input.

What exactly the future will hold cannot be known. There are many scenarios. Innovation testing is one way you can explore the future. Doing it quickly and easily allows you to test more ideas, more often. You stay on top of trends, and you find ideas worth refining.

The organization that is in touch with the possibilities will be miles ahead. If you ignore the probability of a privacy backlash, you put your company at risk.

This article was originally published by MediaVillage on June 18th, 2018.