BrainTrust Query: How Do You Like Your Internet – Insecure or Secure?
Bill Bittner, president, BWH Consulting
There is no doubt that online retailers
have learned out a lot about shoppers as they click around their online stores.
Not only their purchases, but the items they browse but decide not to buy provide
potential insight. Social networking sites provide direct linkage between users,
their family and friends, and their online activity. And there are internet
services that monitor user activity across multiple sites. This detailed monitoring
of online activity is enabling more accurate targeted promotions than were
ever previously possible.
Concurrently, more and more companies are moving to
cloud computing. They are putting all their company software services on “the
it greatly reduces their cost and maintenance issues, and improves communication
between remote users. Backup and recovery costs are also reduced as the cloud
vendor provides these services for many clients. The chief concern of cloud
users is security. Security references the continuity and integrity of the
cloud-based services, but also means freedom from prying eyes. Users want to
know that the data they share and store on the cloud cannot be read or modified
The FCC and Congress have begun looking into the consumer privacy
issues surrounding internet activity. They are considering rules and regulations
that would ensure consumers have the option to opt out of various monitoring
now the extent of this discussion is targeted at browser options to limit tracking
of browser activity. I am not aware of any discussions restricting retailers
from following shoppers while “within” their online stores or providing
any kind of security for email activity. Right now, unless you have made special
arrangements to use encryption features, your email is being sent in readable
A recent series in the Wall Street Journal called “What They
been describing the various intelligence gathering services that monitor online
activity. One of the recent activities described was “deep packet
inspection.” This involves looking at the individual packets of internet
traffic that flow through an internet service provider (ISP). Even if the data
is encrypted, the ISP is able to interpret the headers because the headers
are in readable text so the packet can be properly routed. At the least, a
curious ISP can see everyone a user is talking to; at worst they can actually
read the content of each packet that is not encrypted.
The truth is that
it’s probable nothing on the internet can ever be completely secure. But just
as WikiLeaks has revealed how dangerous it is to allow open access to private
communications, a certain amount of individual privacy seems appropriate on
the internet. So this is the conundrum: a less secure
internet enables greater intelligence gathering but also opens individuals
to more monitoring. A more secure internet provides greater privacy, but may
make it difficult or illegal to gather certain kinds of intelligence (although
the discussion of making anything on the internet illegal is rife with enforcement
issues). Pick your poison.
Discussion Question: How would you prefer your internet: insecure or secure?
Should certain tracking capabilities, be outlawed, even if they are essential
to internet marketing?