Every week, we’re seeing new stories in the news that highlight the uneasy state of privacy norms.
Basically, according to the news, you have a choice between two extremes:
As you’d expect, the truth is somewhere in the middle. But where, exactly?
If you read past the first wave of reporting on Windows and Spotify, a new theme emerges. It’s not about what is being collected and why, it’s about how the data collection was communicated. Consider this comment from Whitson Gordon, published in Lifehacker:
Microsoft’s language on one or two settings is very vague, which means it’s hard to tell when it is and isn’t collecting data related to some settings. The “Getting to Know You” setting is particularly vague and problematic.
Implicit in these arguments is that it’s less what companies are doing that’s at issue than how they communicate about what they’re doing. And all of that comes in response to popular backlash.
Interestingly, the story about JFK airport pinging your phone with Beacons and pulling off its MAC address–your phone’s unique identifier–did not garner nearly as much attention as the other stories, especially given that this data collection is being done at TSA and border control checkpoints. [Wouldn’t you like to know whether the TSA and Border Control have access to that data? I bet a lot of people would.]
Certainly there is a tremendous opportunity for more active transparency (meaning that companies make a concerted effort to communicate) and clarity (the effectiveness of these communications) when it comes to data and how it is used, both within privacy policies and in the apps themselves. This would, as the Lifehacker and Fast Company articles assert, solve a lot of problems. For example:
As you can see, there is a lot of ground to cover. Let’s run the JFK example through this filter.
While this isn’t a perfect science, it’s a good filter to use to determine whether a new or existing use case for data collection might have unwanted consequences. For more detailed information on this framework and its implications, please download “The Trust Imperative: A Framework for Ethical Data Use.”
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