Joe’s Thoughts: How Valuable is Privacy Online?

by Sarah Smith | Customer Satisfaction, eCommerce

How important is privacy on the Internet these days? Not very. As the Internet grows, it has become an excellent tool for spreading and learning information. But this has its drawbacks, and once information is put online, it’s hard to take it back off again. With the recent popularity of social media, this problem has only grown worse. You’ve probably heard of at least a few stories where people have lost their jobs or relationships because of an inappropriate picture or a badly thought out tweet. The modern internet is a sharing culture, and privacy is practically unknown. 

Take modern advertising. Companies can and have targeted demographics more likely to buy their products in the past. Gillette, for example, sends cans of free shaving cream and razors to tens of thousands of teenagers every year. But the Internet has brought direct targeting to another level. Forget your gender, age, and state. If you’ve ever searched for something on Google, spoke to someone else through instant messaging, visited a website, or downloaded a program, you can bet that a dozen online companies know about it, and your advertising will change to reflect that fact. Information most people don’t even know is being given is being used to more accurately target potential customers. 

Social media has been a major culprit in pushing the boundaries of privacy to new, and pervasive, levels. Some people ask if that’s a bad thing. After all, the point of social media is to share information about yourself with other people. It is, but there are different levels of sharing, and it’s something that social media companies haven’t sought to acknowledge. You wouldn’t shout about every details of your life from the rooftops, so why should you do it online? Yet sites like Facebook and Twitter expect any information you put out there to be public, and make privacy controls difficult to use. This setup has turned social media in general into a kind of popularity contest, but there are plenty of people out there not happy with it.

Considering how little privacy we get online, it comes as no surprise that companies are beginning to realize how important privacy really is. Google+, the new social network that focuses on private sharing, has gained 25 million users over the space of a month, making it the fastest growing website in history. The brand name alone can’t account for that level of growth. Just like it real life, the social network makes it easy to share information with just a few select people, and to keep hidden what you want to keep hidden. In advertising also, there will eventually be a way to remain safely anonymous online.

How important is your online privacy to you?