Wednesday, October 30, 2013

To talk, or not to talk, that is the question

I sat down at lunch with three of the biggest corporate guns in the field of privacy.  We're all old friends, and more than a little battle-hardened, and over a cool bottle of Sancerre, we started a heated debate about the benefits of talking, or not talking, about privacy, in the public arena.  

Person A:  We never talk about privacy.  It's a loser.  You can't say anything about it, without offending someone. Talking about privacy is like talking about religion or politics at a dinner party, frankly it's no-go.  Let privacy advocates talk about privacy.  As far us, the less said, the better. 

Person B:  We talk about privacy in a pedagogical sense.  We all know that it's important, and complicated, and we know that consumers need to be educated, to help them make their own decisions.    Transparency is fundamental and ethical, and we're committed to being open about it.

Person C:  We talk about privacy, but only to attack our competitors.  Our most successful marketing initiative this year was to copy the attack-ads that have been part of US politics for years.  Of course it's cynical, and perhaps dishonest and hypocritical, but it works.  

Person A:  It's a myth that you can build trust by talking about privacy.  Actually, the opposite is true.  It's sad, but that's the reality.  If a college kid walks into a bar and tells everybody in the bar that he's never had any sexually-transmitted disease, do you think he's more likely to score than the guy with herpes who doesn't tell anybody about it?  

Person B:  You can talk about things that support privacy, like privacy controls, privacy settings, and strong security.  Those things build trust, and they're objective, and people deserve to know about them.

Person C:  You are so naive.  If you're in a race, you want to win.  Sure, you can try to be the fastest, strongest, smartest, but if you're not, you can still win by hiring some thug to break your competitors'  kneecaps.  And trust me, privacy is like a kneecap.  

I sat back, and said nothing, and sipped my Sancerre, and unconsciously perhaps, crossed my legs and put my hands on my knees.  

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