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If the product is free, you are the product

February 4, 2014

As the author of a blog called “People Like to Share”, I often think about the implications for marketing for people sharing. As a marketer, I’m the beneficiary of the notion that if the product is free, you are the product.

As a consumer, I think about my own privacy and security online.

This week, NPR’s TED Talks radio did a segment on privacy. It is a very good episode, filled with ideas that are worth spreading.

Last summer I moderated a panel with some very knowledgable people around privacy and security. I tried to break it down to a few different points.

Security. Essentially, this is the role the consumer has in keeping their data secure. From effective passwords to being very conservative with sharing data. The experts I talked to said never save credit card data with a website. The convenience of not having to type in a credit card is not worth the risk of the company getting hacked.


Privacy (Photo credit: g4ll4is)

Data. All the likes, check-ins, photos and status updates are data points. Those data points are being collected by companies like Facebook and Google to create detailed profiles of people. On the surface, this isn’t bad. They are using this data to deliver more relevant advertising. For example, I can deliver a message to liberal arts graduates with a 13-17 year old in their household.  I can do that because people have thoughtfully told Facebook this data.

Are we making the right privacy choices?

The value exchange is an important element of this debate. I’m not sure people understand the value equation of giving and receiving. 10 years ago, we guarded our e-mail addresses from brands we trusted. Now, we offer so much public information for utility that isn’t even clearly defined. We currently post data online for likes, karma, RT’s and the like. These are “Internet points” that help us build a valuable community while also giving us the good feeling of positive reinforcement (that’s a great picture Matt, your kids are so cute.)

We share like crazy, but do we see value in return?

We’re currently in an interesting worldwide experiment where we offer up massive amounts of personal; data for utility. And while you don’t have to go far to find people who worry about the consequences of giving away all this data, we honestly don’t know the ramifications of being fully open. Perhaps the only cost is more relevant ads. Perhaps the cost is more dire: a warehouse the size of five massive big box stores creating a dossier of data about every person.

The President of the Unites States 40 years from now will most-likely have a picture of his or her first poopy available on the Internet. Maybe we’ll learn that he or she didn’t walk until they were two? Maybe we’ll learn he or she had a serious heart operation when they were five because the mom posted about it on Facebook.

Sound crazy? Maybe, but I’m keenly aware that if my daughter ever seems on track to be president, it will be impossible to clean the internet of images of her. There’s no delete button on the Internet. So people will find images of her first poop, her first steps, and her first bath.

What do you think? How much do you wonder about privacy?

Also, what do you think of Ted Talks? What podcasts do you like?

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