Someone started out in the public relations business with a couple of employees. When you came out of the elevator, you saw the office door. I won’t mention his actual name. But the sign on the door read, first line: “John Smith and Associates, Public Relations” and second line, “Private.” Ironic, at the least.
This is only half funny. That’s because in our current Internet/social media environment, there seems to be no common basis for what is public and what is private. Recent Wall Street Journal articles have featured headlines and sub-headlines like “The Apps Are Watching” or “Your meditation app knows where you live.”
A technology column was titled, “Hey, Alexa, Who Invited you?” Columnist Christopher Mims wrote, “Amazon has figured out a way to get into millions of homes without consumers ever having to choose its hardware or services in the first place.” Amazon’s “Alexa Smart Properties team” collaborates, Mims notes, with home builders, property managers and even hoteliers by incentivizing the use of its Alexa smart speakers into “domiciles.” For example, Amazon has partnered with rent payment service Zego to let tenants control their thermostats and locks with an app using Alexa technology. Mims gives other examples– an Amazon Alexa for Hospitality-Marriott partnership which will enable Amazon to secure guest information on, say, restaurant reservations, not just getting more towels.
What is the tradeoff between service and privacy? Within a few months, Walmart will start in at least three cities a system that allows its employees, using wearable cameras, to arrive at your home in a company owned car and put food in your kitchen, even refrigerator. It’s enough of a trade-off that Walmart or other vendors know what you eat or drink. Do you want your doctor or insurance company to know how much processed food you buy, the sugar and salt content? Maybe you do, or don’t care. But what if WalMart expands its embryonic interest in providing health care services?
What about that Wal-Mart body camera? Do you want it to memorialize your messy household, unkept kitchen, cluttered refrigerator, sink full of dishes? Who else might see this camera feed? Perhaps your child’s second grade teacher who is teaching about organization and neatness that week?
Think about it. What do you give up for convenience?
Austin Carr reported in the Los Angeles Times that “Disney is running the happiest surveillance operation on Earth.” Disney, he explains, monitors usage of its smartphone apps well as its electronic wrist-worn “MagicBand” to compile data on each family. Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, when she was on the Disney board, inquired whether Disney could track her children. Consider that if you’re with your kids in Disneyland, your defenses are down. You’re not thinking data-mining. Sure, perhaps it helps Disney and you to make your visit to the Magic Kingdom more efficient, to figure out which attractions turn on your kids. But why aren’t you compensated for providing data to Disney that might affect its future plans for producing movies or its new streaming services? A family experience at Disneyland is not inexpensive, yet you’re providing information that Disney can use in ways far beyond your park experience.
Right now, you either do not give data-mining permission to some of these “convenience” services, or it’s buried in small print that few read. And what if you have no choice, either you implicitly or explicitly give your permission, or you can’t partake of say, the “Disney adventure”? Shouldn’t what you agree to be transparent, or perhaps there should be a clear opt-out?
Consider whether you should be protected against third party, or fourth or fifth or sixth party, etc. use of data? In other words, what if Disney or Walmart sells your data to some business collaborator? And with the constant mergers and consolidations, who knows where the Disney data might end up?
These are the kinds of issues that have concerned me for many years before the increasing public attention, and I’m also addressing these concerns in my speeches.