Privacy — The New Currency

There’s a new currency in town.  No, it’s not the Chinese yuan, the Japanese yen, or the European Union’s euro.  It’s personal privacy and each and every day we trade a little of our own for something we consider of value.

Take the supermarket discount card you gladly allow the cashier to swipe at the checkout line.  For a few dollars in savings you willingly tell the store exactly what you bought that day.

Google informs you of websites that you would struggle to find on your own, but in return you allow them and their partners an insight into who you are and what you are interested in.

The Price(s) of Privacy

I think of this new currency as having different levels of value.   As you move up the value chain you give up a little more privacy in order to obtain greater value. At the bottom is web browsing activity.  We use search engines such as Google and Bing.  We turn on web cookies and allow our searches and site visits to be tracked.  Right or wrong, we feel a sense of anonymity and are willing to trade what we consider to be minor breaches in privacy for unfettered access to the Internet.

We then have the generic email address.  By this I mean an email address that’s only used to register for an online service.  You don’t use this address for personal or business correspondence.  You register for the service you want with this address, but after that it’s pretty much forgotten until the next generic registration.   For instance, you might use this email address for a website that requires a registration before releasing a document and once the download is complete, you may have no further interest in the company or its services.  Your intent is that this email address doesn’t point back to you in any meaningful way.

Next in line is a personal or work email address that is used on a regular basis.  You use this when you have a deeper interest in the company and want to receive updates on a regular basis.  Perhaps you trust this company a little more or the goods delivered are more significant.

After this we get a little more personal and provide our name, home address, or phone number.  The service must be of particular value before we are willing to divulge this level of information.  Perhaps we need a physical connection between us and the provider (such is the case for shipping of a product) or we consider this relationship longer lasting (like a bank).

Lastly, we relinquish access to our social media content– our photos, our likes, our political and religious beliefs, our taste in music, etc.  Even though this one is often of tremendous value, a great many people seem willing to treat it as if it was a generic email address.  Our personalities are typically contained in social media content and our quirks can be of great value to anyone trying to understand how to market and sell to us.  In other words, be careful what you “like.”

Is Cash Still King?

It’s funny how one of the last things we are willing to part with on the Internet is real money — at least directly.  The Internet generation expects everything for “free” and would rather barter with personal information than cash.  The companies that have built successful online businesses realize this and deliver their services accordingly.  Their goal is to still receive dollar payments, but they go about it in a roundabout way of advertising and pull through shopping.  They entice you to their site with “free” stuff in order to categorize you and your buying habits before temping you with links that eventually lead to a credit card number.

With all the recent news about the NSA’s gathering of phone records, it’s important to think about privacy and what it means to you.  Consider the worth of yours and who you are willing to give it to.   In today’s digital age it’s nearly impossible to function without an online presence of some sort, but we can take some control over what outside parties learn from our Internet activities.  We’ve long passed the point where we have total control over what we give out or how it’s used, but that’s the tradeoff that nearly everyone of us appears to be willing to make.

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