The Future of Privacy

Today, smartphones are the center of our digital lives, and we’re moving to a world where everything is smart, connected, and gathering increasingly more information about us and our activities. As this happens, companies founded on digital are leveraging this data to provide customized, personalized, and anticipatory services. Traditional companies are becoming increasingly digital as well, as expectations and demands are shifting, both in the consumer and enterprise space.
 
I recently spoke on a panel about the Future of Privacy at the recent National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) Global Summit in Washington, D.C. NACD is an organization of 17,000 corporate governance professionals worldwide that serve on corporate boards of the worlds largest companies. The overall theme was convergence, and cybersecurity and privacy key themes woven throughout the conference. The Future of Privacy panel which I participated in was composed of Keith Enright (Legal Director, Privacy, at Google), and Judith Germano, who founded her own law firm, and is an expert on cybersecurity and Senior Fellow at NYU School of Law. 
 
One interesting discussion was the tension between Privacy and Convenience. Consumers increasingly demand smart products and services, and are choosing offerings from companies that offer the best, most personalized experiences. At the same time, consumers are gaining a deeper understanding of digital privacy and how information that companies are gathering are enabling these amazing experiences. Access to your email can automate your receipts, location information can help you avoid traffic issues, and both of these can help stores understand what should be stocked, when, and where.
 
More than ever, consumers expect companies to use data in service to their experience, but, when faced with the volume of data, they expect to be shown the means by which that data was gathered. We see this in our everyday life. Amazon’s recommendations have become ubiquitous in the way they help us shop, but are always accompanied by an explanation of how they arrived at that recommendation (“because you bought this, we think you might like this”).
 
This dovetails into another set of related issues: Trust and Transparency. The web and mobile have given marketers and companies unprecedented access to information about consumers. Some of this information is exchanged knowingly in an explicit way, yet much of this information is collected without the knowledge of consumers, and storage and use of this can be very opaque. Consumers are starting to demand more transparency, and upcoming legislation (the EU General Data Protection Regulation) will force this issues, providing guidelines around all of this.
 
Ultimately, we’re in a very dynamic place right now in terms of privacy, security, transparency and trust. Products like the Amazon Echo provide amazing convenience, but are always listening. It’s going to be up to consumers to decide where this line is, and the companies that find the right balance and deliver the data they’re collecting in a way that adds to the consumer experience will win.