BrainTrust Query: How Do You Like Your Internet – Insecure or Secure?

Dec 16, 2010

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
cloud” because
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
by others.

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
processes.  Right
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
Know” has
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?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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8 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: How Do You Like Your Internet – Insecure or Secure?"

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Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
10 years 4 months ago

Like a lot of things related to the internet, I’m not sure there’s anything really new here other than it happens a lot faster and more efficiently. Retailers and brand marketers have paid large sums for a long time to gather intelligence about consumer preferences. State secrets have found their way to publications (Pentagon Papers anyone?). The key verb in Bill’s piece is “allow.” If individuals, companies, governments don’t want their information dispersed broadly they can pay cash, eschew the internet, and increase the rigor of selecting individuals with access to sensitive information. In and of itself, the internet just makes things happen faster, not differently.

Roger Saunders
10 years 4 months ago
The consumer is not naive when it comes to sharing a certain amount of data/information about themselves. Keep the “State Secrets” secret (regarding consumers)… The consumer will share certain information about themselves. However, they expect privacy and confidentiality from the retailers with whom the choose to do business. Those merchants, be they brick & mortar or online, will do well to monitor their own practices/”cookie” use, or they will find the regulators coming down with a policy/law, that will have a number of IT and CMOs doing a slow sweat in front of Panels (or worse, attorney briefs that will be more costly). Retailers want and need to make scarce marketing dollars work more productively to maximize behavioral/attitudinal targeting opportunities. By making use of a “data integration” strategy of mining commonly available consumer service resources with their existing information that is openly shared with the retailer, merchants can effectively increase the predictability of customer potential. AND, they don’t have to compromise PRIVACY. Acting in that manner, retailers will find that they solidify TRUST…a characteristic that… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
10 years 4 months ago

Nothing on the internet every really goes away. So be careful what you do and what you say anywhere on the net.

That being said I would vote for stronger privacy rights. Remember this will not only protect the consumer but at the same time this will provide a lot more protection to the business community.

Cathy Hotka
10 years 4 months ago

Customers may be aware of the extent of monitoring of their Internet behavior, but that does not mean they like it. There is nothing more disconcerting than shopping in the evening, and then seeing the selections you did not purchase show up as ads in Yahoo Mail in the morning. I would bet that a consumer survey would show a marked preference for enhanced privacy.

Herb Sorensen
10 years 4 months ago
I think it was ten years ago that Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems said, “You have no privacy, get over it!” This is obviously not totally true, but it is true that what we have traditionally conceived of as private, is seriously eroding. Advanced, connected electronics is of course the enabler of eroding privacy, and at each advance, there are benefits offered to make the erosion possibly worthwhile. Taking an extreme, if you knew absolutely positively that all murder, mayhem and nefarious activities would cease, and you could live your life in absolute security, safety, peace and convenience by totally surrendering privacy, would you voluntarily do it? Older citizens, with their greater skepticism and cynicism, are less likely to accept the proposition. The young are embracing the fishbowl of social media with verve, and obviously have very different ideas about the concept of privacy. These things carry over into attitudes about government, as if it is OK for government to know things about you that you might be enraged for “society” to know. There is… Read more »
Phil Rubin
10 years 4 months ago

Privacy and security are somewhat different when it comes to things digital but clearly intertwined.

Security is the ability to share data, give up privacy, and trust that it will be used appropriately. Giving up this privacy is done by people online as well as offline, in return for the quid pro quo that there is value in return for providing such data.

The problem is that too many companies have not gone to adequate lengths to:
1) Ensure the security of their data
2) Use the data responsibly
3) Adequately disclose the purpose for the collection of and/or use of the data.

As long as one or more of these conditions exist, data security…and privacy concerns, will be challenging.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 4 months ago

As one who operates e-commerce businesses and is acutely aware of the vast volume of personal information flowing through my sites, I’d rather have less access to it. I don’t want to be responsible for protecting information that I don’t need. In the interest of my customers, the ‘net needs to be as secure as possible.

Bill Hanifin
10 years 4 months ago

I sat next to Don Peppers at lunch recently and he told me (paraphrasing) that privacy is a moot issue, i.e there is so much data in the public domain at present that concerns will lessen over time as to where we surf and what we do online.

I’m concerned about the security of data that resides in databases and is subject to breach and misuse. I don’t think we’ve seen anything so far that compares to what risks are in play. I absolutely want more security for banking and payment data and the like. As far as my surfing activity, nothing to hide here and if marketers would actually use it to deliver messages and promotions that mattered to me, I would consider it a fair trade.


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