Privacy Hypocrisy - We can dodge the bullet or we can eat it.
By Scott Hornstein
Thursday, 13th September 2007
There will come a time when mobile marketing is a cause celebre and every consumer group is going to publicly examine our motives and practices. 

They will look at our privacy policies first.  Their assessment will be equal parts fact and emotion.

Will our privacy policies pass the test?  The consumer gets the only vote.  Here's what they are likely to find:
As a customer, I think a privacy policy should plainly say, I, the company, respect you, the customer.  Here's how I will earn and maintain your trust.  I recognize that this is chimera – in most cases the privacy policy is a legal document that permits corporations to do whatever they want whenever they want.

Companies' reasoning may be summed up as:  Given our litigious society and obsession with "privacy" we have to have a legal firewall.  Protection.   It's got to give the company as much latitude as possible because, if sales slow down, I gotta do what I gotta do.

The chasm between these two points of view will not close by itself. What's broken is as basic as it gets.  Given that everyone is hyper-connected, posts to a blog, FaceBook or YouTube, it's going to get wide, deep and loud.   Every red-blooded politician will drop the hot-potato issues and jump on this like a loose ball at the Super Bowl.

Here are some simple suggestions that I believe will help us individually, and as a group build bridges to our customers from the high road. 

Take it seriously.  Privacy policies were created because customers want them.  We should both be on the same side of the negotiating table.  It is not adversarial.  The customer is, after all, in charge. 

Tell the truth.  Here's wording that is representative of what I've seen on many mobile sites:

"The personal information that you provide is an important part of our business. We are not in the business of selling this information to others. This information will only be shared with our direct partners and agents as required."

I'm not a lawyer, but I'll bet that this means that this company can name anyone as a direct partner and agent and share all my information without asking me.

Is that policy statement telling the truth?  Ask a customer.  I asked my teenagers, arguably mobile early-adopters, their reaction.  Their response: They are all liars.  They all behave like buttheads.  They tell you how they won't do something, then they do it anyway."

But doesn't marketing need latitude – to do what I gotta do?  That's an intellectually lazy question.  Can we find ways to respond to changing market conditions that are within our agreement of trust and respect?  I like to think so.

Live by what you say. Customers demanded that we each publish a privacy policy, I think they're going to expect we live by it, too.  Which means that implementation of the privacy policy must have legitimacy and teeth.  Making the lead privacy offer a line position would be a step in the right direction, someone with the power to say yes and no.  Then adherence to the privacy policy has got to be part of the corporate measurement and reward system.  If it's not measured and rewarded, it's simply not going to happen.

This is very simple, very basic stuff, but that's what's broken.  Robert Frost said that good fences make good neighbors.  Corporate lawyers may have come up with the wording that will stand-up in a court of law, but that's not the landscape.  It's our neighbors, our customers, who are holding all the cards.  We built the fence, now let's build it good.

By Scott Hornstein  
Chief Marketing Officer, Wired Assets Data Corporation


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