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The New Privacy Rules
The “Sony Hack” is not just a clarion call for increased cyber-security. I believe it to be a transcendent inflection point that will elevate a number of important philosophical issues for our society.
The breach surely is a sobering reminder that there are few safe places for private discourse in our “always on”, “everything is connected to everything else,” technology-built society. Cyber-security, cyber-warfare, terrorism, privacy, transparency, corporate espionage, even blackmail are all considerations upon which we are going to need to re-aggregate our thinking all over again. Here is the marketer’s riddle: Don’t you, as a customer, just love this advanced world of mass customization in which so many things are increasingly personalized? In 2003 when the Apple iPod ushered in the era of a “personal playlist” that began with music but now includes personalized settings for everything in our lives, who knew then that it could backfire into an excessively exuberant over-sharing of our personal information to allow for that personalization that would make us vulnerable?
Even as we bumped along the journey of progress, patiently hearing of horror stories in which hackers stuck their noses in places they didn’t belong, it wasn’t personal. Some of you even believed that certain examples of the hacking were in the spirit of Robin Hood, stealing from the government, secrets that rightfully belonged to the public. But what are the rights of a corporation like Sony? What about the other firms that have been hacked? Target? EBay? The Home Depot? Kmart? So now where do you come down on privacy?
In the end, these companies, even the government, consist of people and have customers who are people. This is where all of the philosophical debate becomes far less important than the individual freedoms that are being threatened. The Sony hack remains in the news because of North Korea’s alleged involvement, and because of Sony’s decision to pull the movie The Interview from distribution, but yet another element of this technology-fueled mess is the content of the Sony company e-mails that were made public, including critiques of Hollywood stars and racist jokes allegedly made by two high-ranking Sony executives. Now if we were to set the content of the comments, themselves, aside to focus on the act of making such comments public, you can take the more righteous road and say that integrity is about what you say and do when no one is watching. In that vein, no one would have anything to worry about even if his expectation of privacy is breached, right? But is that really the case? Is it fair that every manifestation of our thoughts and behavior can suddenly, without warning, be placed under the klieg light of public scrutiny? This is what I believe will increasingly become troubling for individuals, all of us, when it comes to turning over important information about ourselves that might eventually become the means for some bad actor hacking into our lives and blackmailing us in exchange for keeping our private matters private.
Who among us would want to be defined by our worst moment? Certainly if our society were defined by the lowest common denominator of our individual worst moments or conduct, we would be a terrible model for civility. However, that’s not who I believe us to be. Just what are the new rules in an age where “personalization” is on a collision course with “privacy”?
If you, as a marketer, don’t believe that the Sony hack has finally become the tipping point on this issue, just watch consumer behavior in the coming year and see if you don’t notice a pullback in the forthrightness with which your customers turn over their data to you. It’s going to be up to you to step up your cyber-security to protect not just your self-interests, but theirs. Then you’ll have to convince them of that fact.
For now, we all don’t get to see a new movie that I wouldn’t have gotten around to seeing until it was on Direct TV anyway. What will we lose next?
Russ Klein, CEO