Consensus Advisors: Will the NSA Scandal Make Consumers Unwilling to Share Personal Info?
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Consensus Advisors, a boutique investment and advisory firm specializing in the retail industry.
"You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it!"
That line was famously delivered 14 years ago by Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems in the earlier days of the battle over consumer privacy and the internet. But, the revelations by Edward Snowden have added a sinister take on the issue and also opened up an overdue discussion about privacy in the digital age and the potential for abuse.
The concept of "Big Data" runs through almost everything we brush up against today, from international politics and dealing with terrorism to domestic law enforcement and on down to the more humble concerns such as marketing to consumers. As consumers in the 21st century, we leave a digital trail through smartphone app usage, internet browsing and electronic purchases. The mere use of social networks like Facebook opens a window onto who you are, what you like and, more importantly to businesses, what you have the potential to like.
Building a digital trail can be a boon—you might receive truly useful product suggestions from Amazon as you navigate its site or find your Google searches subtly directed in such a way as to make them better and more efficient. While it can be almost creepy, like targeted banner ads popping up on totally unrelated websites are reflective of that one website you only looked at once, generally, the personal customization of your digital experience is seen as a feature and not a bug.
For retailers, the quicker they discern your desires and then satisfy them, the more successful they will be. And even though it may not be wise, at some level we trust that the retailers we frequent, no matter the sales channel, will use the information they gather about us in a responsible manner and not share it with every entity that comes knocking without taking the trouble to get a warrant.
The debate on the NSA's ‘eye in the sky' is a healthy one. However, I do know that it is too difficult for the average consumer to effectively manage their digital trail, because the pace of technological change is simply too great and the means of collection are so ubiquitous as to be imperceptible.
It can't be helped—data is the byproduct of daily life and, when properly culled, it is incredibly useful to governments and businesses alike. The drive to collect it is not going to go away, even if Congress passes new laws. Wherever you go, whatever you do, whatever you look at, desire, think about, express or post to a blog, you'd do well to remember, the eye in the sky is looking at you.
You might as well have a nice day, the world will know, one way, or another.
Will revelations about NSA surveillance techniques affect consumer willingness to share data with businesses? Do you suspect consumers will be more or less comfortable with marketing based on their digital trail?