Staff Reporters
Jun 15, 2010

Is privacy abused by digital media owners?

Google's street view mapping service and Facebook's sharing of data with other sites has highlighted concerns that media owners aren't ensuring sufficient privacy for their users.

Is privacy abused by digital media owners?

Mark Cripps, worldwide regional director, MRM AP, says YES

"The qualification is that abuse could come from any and all quarters. We have to be on guard all of the time. I'm a zealot when it comes to guarding my passwords and access codes - you can imagine my horror when everyone in my Yahoo and Gmail address books recently received a false email from me recommending they buy kit from a China-based electronics e-store (which ripped people off as I found out later). What's more, all the addresses from both mailboxes were wiped clear.

This has happened to many thousands of people - someone taps into your keystrokes when you access the web via hotel wifi. Watch out! But more sinister, I think, is the notion of 'radical transparency'. Read David Kirkpatrick's book The Facebook Effect. He argues Facebook believes that people and society will be better off if they make themselves transparent and are actively discouraging privacy.

Contrary to popular views, the younger generation are getting wise to this potential abuse and are cloaking themselves - while the more elderly among us remain blasé."

James Wu, GM at Mediacom Interaction in China, says YES

"There are two themes here; personalisation and privacy. Consumers, will tell you they want ads that are personalised to them, but, at what cost to their privacy?

The line seems get to drawn when personal information is used without the consumer's knowledge, and rightly so. Facebook's recent instant personalisation (aka data sharing with other sites) programme that was automatically set to opt out, rather than opt in, caused a flurry of frustrated activity on Facebook and definitely crossed the line. The lesson is to know exactly how sites that hold your personal information intend to use it.

There was also recent uproar about Google's street view mapping service. Cynics will say that Google intended to collect the data from the beginning, and maybe they did. Others will tell you that it was an honest mistake, but who leaves their wireless unlocked nowadays anyway?"

Advertisers need to be smarter. They should use data responsibly, keep any user information anonymous and offer opt in for services that require the use of personal information."

Kenneth Andrews, marketing director at Microsoft AP, says NO

"In many countries, companies must comply with local laws that have an impact on privacy. We work with governments to make our privacy views known, such as our opposition to restrictions on peaceful political expression.

We recently announced a key change in data retention for Bing users. We now delete the internet protocol address associated with search queries every six months.
Where no formal privacy regulations exist, it is at the discretion of the media owner to decide how and when to use consumer data. Repercussions associated with the improper use of this data can lead to loss of consumer trust.

We believe people should be in control of their personal information. We support initiatives like the self-regulatory principles for online behavioural advertising, which require online advertisers and websites to provide notice to consumers about data collected.

Protecting consumer privacy requires a combination of national legislation, self-regulation by media owners, technology solutions and consumer education."

Ross Gearing, managing director at Rapp, says NO

"Any data posted is generated and edited by the user. It's essentially the responsibility of users to manage the information they give. However, it's important to remember that anything they post is permanently recorded and subject to the needs of commercial companies.

Giving and receiving data is like any transaction - users exchange information about themselves for access to online services. In the case of Google and Facebook, users can access an amazing range of applications, in exchange for personal data. This ensures that the services are free, as the data is used to tailor the advertising linked to these applications (which effectively pays for them).

The majority of online services are based on this business model and media owners are held accountable to their own privacy policies (which users agree to in order to access services). Many applications, like Facebook, allow users to determine and manage their own privacy settings. Vaguely-worded privacy policies obviously run the risk of getting users into trouble."

Got a view?
Email [email protected]

This article was originally published in the 3 June 2010 issue of Media.

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