Privacy Matters

Having an interesting discussion with a friend about issues surrounding online privacy and corporate tracking of customers. At issue is whether some forms of customer tracking are acceptable, or none. If a company you like and have done business with in the past sends you an email, do you expect that clicking links in that email will report that you, Jane Doe, responded to an email campaign, visited the such and such pages, and bought such and such products? (Keep in mind that this is not spam, but an email newsletter you really did sign up for). If you didn’t know you were being tracked, would it bother you to find out that you were? What about non-personal, generic stats tracking, which just gathers average results to see what people do and don’t like? What if you found out that the company’s services could become much more valuable to you if they could gather personal usage data on your surfing and buying habits? How valuable is your personal privacy? For which kinds of rewards would you be willing to give it up? How clear should a company be that they’re tracking you? Is the fine print in the EULA or TOS sufficient, or should tracking notices be posted in boldface on the page where you sign up? Can privacy lost ever be regained?

How do you feel about companies tracking your personal surfing/purchasing habits?

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Music: Neil Young :: Loose Change

8 Replies to “Privacy Matters”

  1. If I’ve given the company my e-mail address and purchased something from them, then I don’t mind them tracking my visits to their site. In fact, I prefer it.

    I don’t think that company’s have any business trying to track me anywhere else though..

    The places that try to surreptitiously track you from site to site bother me.

  2. I guess I have no real trouble with companies (specifically, the company that I purchased the item from) tracking my purchasing habits. I believe amazon already does this. Tracking my surfing habits, however, does bother me.

  3. I’m thinking I’m with the concensus here: OK for the company with whom I’ve already established a relationship with tracks activity I have with their site/mailings/etc. But that’s where it stops. Gathering information outside of that specific scenario just is not OK by me.

  4. Interesting that most of you assumed I was referring to corporations tracking your movements beyond the borders of their own domain. While this is a genuine concern (e.g. sites that collaborate by joining their databases to find correlating users and are able to cast a much wider surveillance net), I think this practice is fairly rare, probably mostly constrained to the porn industry, although there was a lot of press a few years ago about one of the big ad agencies – DoubleClick? – doing this. Their practice of this was shut down by the userbase in short order.

    I was actually referring to the corp I’ve done business with tracking my movements through their own site / store / catalog / forurms / subsidiaries, etc. Yes, it’s probably not that much different from the invasiveness of the net of surveillance cameras we all live amidst these days, but I still don’t like it. Don’t like being surveilled on a personal level. Too big brother. Creepy. Perhaps irrational, but is nothing private? And what about the possibility of my surfing habits being leaked in the future? Say the corp sells their customer database – or it leaks out of the company – and my run for public office is hampered ten years from now because someone somewhere triangulated me with a pattern of surfing some hypothetical unsavory site or catalog or forum. I just don’t like it.

  5. If a company you like and have done business with in the past sends you an email, do you expect that clicking links in that email will report that you, Jane Doe, responded to an email campaign, visited the such and such pages, and bought such and such products? (Keep in mind that this is not spam, but an email newsletter you really did sign up for).

    Do I expect that clicking links in that email will report? Yes.

    Do I agree that clicking links in that email should report? No.

    If you didn’t know you were being tracked, would it bother you to find out that you were?

    Yes, the two main issues being presumption and dishonesty on the part of the tracker.

    What about non-personal, generic stats tracking, which just gathers average results to see what people do and don’t like?

    What is my incentive to trust that the claim of “non-personal, generic” is true? Why should I believe it?

    What if you found out that the company’s services could become much more valuable to you if they could gather personal usage data on your surfing and buying habits?

    It depends on what the meaning of the phrase “much more valuable” is. “Could” isn’t good enough. In any event, it’s a decision best left to individual discretion, on a case-by-case basis.

    How valuable is your personal privacy? For which kinds of rewards would you be willing to give it up?

    In the immortal words of financier J.P. Morgan: “If you have to ask how much something costs, then you can’t afford it.”

    How clear should a company be that they’re tracking you? Is the fine print in the EULA or TOS sufficient,

    Certainly not, since the sole purpose of fine print is deception (whilst pretending not to deceive).

    or should tracking notices be posted in boldface on the page where you sign up?

    Now that’s more like it!

    Can privacy lost ever be regained?

    Yes, but prevention is better than cure.

    Speaking of “privacy lost”, get a load of this little jewel:
    http://www.paloaltodailynews.com/peterson/briefs/PRX_JURY_03-05-04_QUESTS.pdf [580KB PDF]

    Don’t like being surveilled on a personal level. Too big brother. Creepy.

    http://www.thenewamerican.com/tna/1999/10-11-99/vo15no21_cyberspace.htm

    And what about the possibility of my surfing habits being leaked in the future? Say the corp sells their customer database – or it leaks out of the company – and my run for public office is hampered ten years from now because someone somewhere triangulated me with a pattern of surfing some hypothetical unsavory site or catalog or forum. I just don’t like it.

    You may have already read this:
    http://slashdot.org/articles/04/03/05/1619237.shtml

  6. In order to give better service, (and make more sales in the process ;o) ), companies need information. I don’t have a problem with that per se, I just wish they weren’t so surreptious about it.

    I expect them to track clicks in general terms, ie not customer specific information, but if more is wanted, I would prefer they asked for it. I assume if somone has bought something, they must be happy, and in the fram of mind to fill out a survey.

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