But moderator Hughes noted that the privacy issues are only growing bigger, with powerful new technologies such as geo-location data from mobile devices only likely to give marketers more information about the consumers they want to reach. He asked what Facebook and Google have planned in that regard, say for instance with Google Glasses that people would wear.
Facebook's Erin Egan said it's an ongoing engineering discussion, with the knowledge that the potential is there that "in 10 years, everyone will know where everyone is." Facebook, like others, is examining geo-location as an interface with Apple or Google devices.
Google's Enright would only say location data might be "transient" or "permanent" as a persistent anonymous identifier, and the question of an "opt in" to have something done for you was under discussion. "It's about building a product that's valuable to users," he said, but admitted making any of these geo-location ideas adhere to government regulatory requirements related to privacy around the world would be "challenging."
Hughes posed a question about whether it's possible to actually "overbuild privacy" given that surveys show that consumers do love the free services they get.
Keeping it all free or coming up with an alternative choice that would be a subscription-based model in which there would be a charge for services but no advertising or marketing is something that has been discussed at Facebook, said Egan. But there's no indication this would happen.
These chief privacy officers say their role is having a say regarding the impact to user privacy in virtually all products and services that their companies roll out. One of the hard parts is striving to stay out of trouble with regulatory authorities around the world that may have strong and radically differing laws about protecting online consumer privacy.
One of the main struggles is explaining all this complexity about privacy and policy to the user in a straight-forward, easy-to-understand way. "We have to make sure everyone understands what our polices are," Microsoft's Lynch said.
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