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5 reasons we're losing the fight for online privacy

Paul Coletti | Jan. 23, 2014
The evidence is all around us that the battle will eventually be lost.

In December 2013, Edward Snowden appeared on British television to exhort the world to think about the "privacy of the average person" and fight against the surveillance state. He was too late. Here are five reasons why the battle for online privacy will eventually be lost.

1. The path of least resistance
"Address please?" This two-word phrase is fast becoming the de facto response from salespeople the world over when you present your goods for payment.

At first you were probably taken aback and asked, "Why?" The arguments lobbed your way are well rehearsed: "We might need to contact you if the concert is canceled," "It's for emergencies" and the oddly reassuring yet brazenly honest, "It's for marketing." Over time my will to resist has wilted.

At a well-known London theater recently, I turned up in person and paid cash for tickets. When the inevitable questions came and I was asked to divulge my personal details, I pondered the arguments for arguing, briefly considered lying, felt sorry for the person in the kiosk whose job it was to extract the information and promptly sang like a canary. Am I a spineless coward?

Possibly, but do you always want to be that person holding up the queue and bellowing forth a discourse on the right to privacy while demanding to see the manager? I crave an easy life. Now, it's not that I don't trust the Old Vic to look after my details -- I'm sure its IT security is impeccable, and I'll probably enjoy whatever they send me in the post -- but at some point in the future, the current owners of the business might just sell up to new proprietors with a far less healthy attitude toward data protection. Which leads me to . . .

2. The value of data
It's probably happened on a small scale already, but allow me to make a confident albeit not very brave prediction: Within a decade or so, a multimillion-dollar business deal will conclude and a reasonably well-known concern — it could be an insurance company, a restaurant franchise, a gym or something else — will change hands, and the majority of the price paid will not be for the bricks and mortar and assorted other physical assets but instead for the micro-SD card holding the vendor's data.

Those people who used to run postal catalog services back in the '70s made tiny profits selling chocolate fondue sets but got very rich selling their customer lists. They and their modern-day counterparts, the price comparison sites, understand this concept very well: In the long run, your name and address are worth more than a Nautilus Stairmaster. Much more.


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