Has Privacy Become Just a Talking Point For Tech?

Eva Maria Schmidt
March 9, 2020

Data privacy has been a hot topic for several years now, and, to no one’s surprise, it was a can’t-be-missed focal point earlier this year during the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). While the tech industry is busy churning out everything from self-driving cars to coffee-making robots and other futuristic devices, one can’t help but wonder why the topic of privacy seems like a forced afterthought when it comes to many of these new gadgets and gizmos. Of course everyone is interested in the “cool factor” regarding new technology, but what are we expecting consumers to risk in exchange for coolness and convenience?

Last spring, Gartner reported that only four in 10 privacy execs are confident about adapting to new, imminent regulations. And now that the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) has taken effect, companies are under even more legal pressure to comply. The days of casually collecting and keeping personal data “in the cloud” is coming to an end for marketers.

In spite of new, existing and pending privacy laws, I still can’t help wonder if the industry is taking customer privacy concerns seriously enough. When I look at new tech products today, I find myself wondering how much they’re asking from me as a consumer. How much personal data do I have to provide in order to make all these cool things work as intended? Tech is struggling to find the balance between providing value that doesn’t require gathering intimate levels of personal data. In a race to become the coolest, most convenient gadget, we tend to side-step privacy, only to circle-back later to add it in as a key talking point. This approach is not only backwards, it’s dangerous.

The risk falls almost completely on consumers. We’ve already seen it play out across different scenarios that are increasingly damaging to the very people brands connect with and sell to. No industry or vertical has been immune to data compromises – from banks to social media networks, to technology giants. The technology industry simply cannot overlook privacy as a corporate message, as it’d be a glaringly irresponsible oversight.

Our recent Selligent poll of 5,000 global consumers reported that they love their voice assistants and use them often — 45% of the population are regular users — but 51% are worried that they’re being listened to without their consent. Tech has morphed into an industry that’s consumed with meeting hyper-personalized consumer wants and needs and rightfully so; these new markets are booming, but they’re overlooking the fact that 74% of people value privacy over experience. We’re now at a crossroads where we have to ask ourselves, “Can you have one without the other?” How do we deliver a personalized experience without tracking consumers’ every move?

Organizations need to have serious, honest conversations that re-evaluate the need and use for data they collect and store. Consumers’ personal information is the very heart of what makes many brands successful in building connected, personalized experiences. However, understanding how much is too much is critical. A few questions to consider:

– Do data strategies and a mission to be customer-first align, and how?

– How transparent are we with our customers and is it enough?

– Are we doing what we can to do right by the people who are entrusting us with their information?

We may not have all the answers, but as consumers, we do have to consider how privacy affects us and use that to propel conversations we are having as industry leaders.