Where do our public lives end & our private lives start in 2019?

In many ways, my career has been defined by the convergence of data and technology. Former roles have included serving as the Director of Customer Success for Salesforce as well as the Global Director of Programmatic Marketing & Data Governance with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG): I’ve worked at the highest-level of strategies for major Fortune 500 companies. I love data: I love the results it yields, I love the way in which it allows not just businesses, but society as a whole, to grow, evolve, and improve.

But, and this is important: I am also a life-long consumer, a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a friend. Maybe when you first heard of the Equifax hack some dark thoughts crossed your mind: what if my data gets out there, how will I find out my identity has been stolen, how will I navigate all the complexities to resolve it? What if someone I love gets hurt by this hack? Those thoughts kept me up at night…and continue to. Maybe you can relate?

As with any newly discovered territory, the world wide web has, until recently, enjoyed relative lawlessness — when it comes to our personal data and privacy. This is finally starting to change (and fast). Various countries, and now states, are enacting privacy regulations around data. A year ago last month the European Union enacted the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) which for those of us in the states, just meant a series of notifications about updated privacy policies. For those in Europe, however, it meant sweeping protections around how data shared online and held by corporations is treated.

The United States has yet to enact protections at the federal level, however states are starting to propose privacy bills. Ohio recently passed its Data Privacy Act, which has vested businesses with the obligation to take reasonable measures to prevent cybersecurity issues. CCPA (California’s Consumer Privacy Act) has taken the lead, forging a path forward for US Privacy policies.

As these new policies to protect data are enacted, exactly how we define and protect privacy in 2019 and beyond is becoming a question to which everyone, from big tech to marketers to Internet users everywhere, must respond.

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of privacy is “the quality or state of being apart from company or observation”.  In the past, ‘being apart from company or observation’ used to be simple…if you were out in public, for example at the grocery store, you were not in private. If you were home, behind closed doors, you were in private, apart from company or observation.

Today, the lines between what is public and what is private life have become increasingly blurred. Things get even murkier online. What does privacy mean to you when you are in the comfort of your own home, using your own computer to browse the Internet or stay in touch with friends using social media…are you in the public or private domain?

From remote working to online schools to smart homes, the Internet is becoming more and more intertwined with every facet of our daily lives. The very word ‘internet’ suggests an inter-connected network —  the Internet then, it could be argued, is by its very nature a public space.

However, today we use the Internet for the most private of things, from paying our credit card bills, to applying for mortgages, to refilling our prescriptions with an app. When does what we do (such as searching for answers to our most intimate questions) online deserve the same privacy that having an intimate conversation with a friend at home warrants?

Merriam-Webster’s second definition of privacy is, “freedom from unauthorized intrusion.”

With data and privacy regulations still in their infancy, what does ‘freedom from unauthorized intrusion’ mean when we are using a public space to conduct private business?

Today, entire industries are driven by what happens on the Internet. Data is vital to this action.

Recent studies have revealed that the way in which advertisers reach us, and the amount of information they have about us, is starting to make people uncomfortable. Just as you wouldn’t want an advertiser to follow you home from the doctor’s office and knock on your door, it’s uncomfortable to have advertisers suggesting products from an online event they have data on.

But, aren’t we signing a series of waivers allowing this kind of intrusion? We all are so used to just hitting that ubiquitous “I Accept” box on website privacy policies just to speed things along. Ever wonder what are we really signing off on?

The old adage “time is money” is a popular. I wager to say that in modern society the expression “data is money” would be more accurate.  After all, businesses have been bought and sold not for their products but for the customer data they possess.

Regulations are starting to address the issue of how our data needs to be protected when we sign it over, what can be used by advertisers, and what cannot be. As these regulations continue to be adopted and evolve, we as a society will need to revisit and redefine what privacy means in a world that is dependent upon the inter-connected, and very public, online world.

As what privacy means continues to be defined and to evolve, big tech, big brands, and big government will need to respond as well.


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