Last Thursday, BAIA held one of its most engaging panel discussions with guest speakers Alessandro Acquisti, Andrea Vaccari, and David Cooke. At the Palo Alto office of Squire Sanders law firm, the evening’s topic on digital privacy was elegantly presented and moderated by Mary Trigiani, a corporate marketing consultant and a close friend of BAIA.
Thanks to the vast expertise and unique perspectives from the speakers, the audience was able to leave with an enhanced view of the online privacy debate and how online privacy is interconnected with technology, economics, and to our own perception.
(Left to Right: Mary Trigiani, Alessandro Acquisti, Andrea Vaccari, David Cooke. Photo courtesy of Aurora Meneghello Productions.)
The Greater Good in Data Collection
As Prof. Acquisti pointed out, “data accrues over time in a database just as capital accrues over time.” As we collect more data, the quality of the data also improves. On the surface of the issue, data collection has always been seen as negative, limiting, and intrusive to our daily lives. In reality, as Mr. Cooke told us, both marketers and consumers can benefit from data collection. The more marketers know about the consumer, the greater the consumer experience, the greater the service, value, and interaction. We have all experienced this and there are spectacular examples on how effective this approach can be. One incredible story is how Target, through customer analytics technology, was able to figure out that a young teenager was pregnant before her father knew.
In addition, as Mr. Vaccari explained, people leave “digital footprints,” data that is collected and left behind. This data can be very useful for developing smarter cities, roads, and can be used to evaluate the mobility of individuals. For example, Mr. Vaccari at MIT took part in The Obama – One People project which mapped out the movements of people during the 2009 Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C.
The underlying issue of data collection and privacy is that most of what is technically feasible has not been legislated or regulated. It is therefore left at the discretion of companies to self-regulate and, as Mr. Cooke believes, “companies have an ethical responsibility” to decide how to best manage and protect the data of consumers, businesses, and individuals.
The Brave New World is Profitable. Big Brother is Not!
In economic terms, a delicate balance exists between privacy protection and profit. The reason marketers self-regulate and set privacy boundaries is because they fear of the negative effects of consumer backlash. As the speakers suggested, these privacy boundaries are in part due to our society’s norms and, as a society further develops, certain privacy boundaries of now may become mainstream in the future. In analogy, a conformist, homogeneous society depicted in the Brave New World is a perfect example of how profit would rule over privacy. In contrast, today’s society strives for privacy over profit and Big Brother is a current example of the need for privacy boundaries. As Ms. Trigiani points out, “it is an accomplishment in itself that we are having this conversation on digital privacy.”
Perceptions of Privacy
The way in which we perceive privacy is also very important. Is privacy a commodity or a right? The answer may be both, that is why privacy protection triggers just as much heated debate as the health care debate. Moreover, how privacy is perceived depends largely on our subjective preferences, on our societal constructs, and on our generational values. In sum, the universal truth lies in the fact that we must individually and collectively decide how to balance our online presence and digital presence with our real life.
A special thanks to Mary Trigiani, to our guest speakers Alessandro Acquisti, Andrea Vaccari, David Cooke, and to Squire Sanders for a truly great event location in Palo Alto, CA.
- Event video
- Event photos
- Mary Trigiani, Corporate Marketing Consultant at Spada, Inc
- Alessandro Acquisti, Associate Professor of Information Systems and Public Policy at the Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University, and Member of Carnegie Mellon CyLab
- Andrea Vaccari, CEO of Glancee (News: Glancee was recently acquired by Facebook)
- David Cooke, Vice President, Analytics at First Rain
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