Do not Track: Are We Missing the Era of Personalized Privacy?

Ad Age’s article on MS’s decision to have Do Not Track (DNT) the default option for IE 10 details the uproar over online advertising’s future. I’ll leave that debate for others. I’m going to talk about the approach to privacy that I believe is outdated, but can change for the better.

My research on privacy for social listening, done with Howard R. Moskowitz and Tom Woodnutt (see the presentation) suggests that industry defines the issue too narrowly. Our data showed that there are three mindsets towards privacy, not just one. They are: “I’m in control,” “Collect it, but with integrity,” and “Protect my personal information.” Each group has different triggers for concern and different preferences for reducing their privacy concerns. Although collecting conversations  is not advertising tracking, similarities exist. The mindsets are worth thinking through from this angle. I would like to do a mindset study on advertising tracking to learn how the mindsets compare.

DNT defaults appeal only to the “I’m in control” segment. These folks, who account for about 2/3 of our respondent sample, want the responsibility for specifying their settings and preferences about tracking and privacy.  However, people in the other two groups prefer other methods for reducing their concern over data collection. For example, the “Protect My Personal Information” group’s concerns drop when privacy policies are clearly explained, their privacy settings are respected, and companies are accountable. The  ”Collect It” segment is actually turned off by the options that are so important to the “I’m in control” segment, but turned on by clear explanations of how data will be used, rapid complaint handling, and ground rules over what will be collected. Without recognizing that multiple mindsets towards privacy exist, DNT defaults may not be relevant to two groups and risks alienating them. Additionally, privacy is more than settings alone, but an integration of corporate policies, research practices, and personal preferences.

Through some statistical work, we created a “privacy wizard”  that makes an era of personalized privacy possible for the first time. There’s a screen shot in the presentation. By answering just a few questions – which can be embedded on any web page or in an app, an individual can be assigned to a mindset segment in just a few seconds.  After assignment, the privacy policies can be customized on the fly in ways that match a person’s mindset. Instead of one-size fits all privacy policies and default settings, the potential exists to mass customize them for the benefits of consumers and companies. Shouldn’t we?

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