Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Selfishness and greed reduce privacy; or transparency yields personalisation

Here's a thought as to why personal privacy is mostly given up freely:
  • "I want" (or think I want) to be treated as an individual. I want stuff to be personalised for me.
  • But you can't personalise stuff for me unless I reveal who I am, and what my likes, wants and needs are.
  • So my demand for personalisation leads inevitably to greater transparency or, looked at the other way, less privacy.
There's almost a sliding scale, a trade-off, between the amount of privacy I have and the degree of custom experience I get. To get the most tailored, custom, service I need to let an all-seeing butler into my life. Alternatively, the higher my privacy, the more my experience is generic - the same as everyone else's - because there's no information with which to differentiate between us.

And just why do I want this personalisation that demands transparency? Because, in common with every other human being, I'm both greedy and intensely selfish: I want it all, my way, and now.

Internet users are not stupid. As an economist, I think they make rational choices between alternatives. They know they are not the customer but the product that's being sold; and they're happy to pay the price because their wants are being met. They've decided to agree with the famous Gordon Gekko line from the Wall Street movie that 'Greed is good.'

So users will continue to reveal more of their life to Facebook and Google because by doing so they'll get more stuff how and when they want it. Those motivations of greed and selfishness are more powerful than the pull of privacy, until an unexpected straw breaks the camel's back when suddenly it's too late.
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