With all the amazing content available for free on the web, why are customers surprised or upset that companies track your online behavior? Are they seriously "creeped out" that their web searches today drive some of the ads they'll see for the next few weeks? Why?
Does anyone think all that content is pure altruism?
The Free Lunch Concept
Anytime someone goes poking around on a website, it's like going to the open house when a neighbor's property is on the market. It is, after all, an open house — so anyone can walk in.
But does a rational person really think the house is open just for the fun of it? Of course, the real estate agent is going to ask each person to sign the guest book. And what do you think he will do with the names he collects? He will flood them with newsletters and holiday cards for the next decade. It's the price of admission and theoretically it should be worth it.
By the same token, the real estate agent is upfront about that guestbook. A customer can see it, sign it and anticipate what will happen next.
So maybe companies should be more upfront about their data practices. Because in the end, customers have the choice of whether or not they want to go into that open house. And that is the same choice customers should have when they are on the web.
Companies may have the right to collect data. But maybe they also have the responsibility to disclose that fact — and maybe customers really should question any organization that tries to hide the way it uses the data it gathers.
Quite a Conundrum
Even for me — a relatively simple and straightforward guy — the issue of privacy is not that simple. There are times when I want it (expect it) and other times when I don't care as much. But in all cases, I do expect some level of stewardship on the part of the company. It's like the idea of having fitting rooms at the store so you can try on clothes before buying them. Nobody is surprised or inconvenienced at the notion that there are specific places to try on clothes and those places are behind doors and walls.