You may wonder, as you champion privacy awareness, if the efforts of the privacy movement have had an impact on the behavior of companies who collect, use and share our personal information. As we collectively work together to elevate the visibility of privacy issues and affirm the value of privacy, are the biggest players in the game taking notice?
In a word: Yes. Recent stories suggest that not only have privacy advocates and regulators been heard, but that companies are looking to privacy as a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
“Apple’s latest product is privacy.”
Walt Mossberg, writing for re/code, reported how Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, highlighted privacy and user control as a major talking point at the 2015 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference.
Not only did Federighi echo Tim Cook’s earlier statements about Apple’s dedication to privacy, but he framed Apple’s approach to privacy in direct contrast to Google’s, stating, “We don’t mine your email, your photos, or your contacts in the cloud to learn things about you. We honestly just don’t wanna know.”
Some have argued that Apple’s use of privacy as a key differentiator is somewhat disingenuous. As Farhad Manjoo argues in the NY Times, not only does Apple gather information about how we use devices, but it uses that information to “build and market its own products, and to build its own advertising network.”
There’s also the question of whether or not Apple’s products are as private as the company would have us believe. After all, the devices themselves provide a gateway for sharing information with Google, Microsoft, and a vast field of “free” apps which gather and use our personal information in ways that are not necessarily secure or transparent.
Whether or not critics see Apple’s behavior as consistent with its marketing message, it’s important to recognize that Apple believes privacy concerns have reached a kind of tipping point where the marketing value of the message is clear and powerful.
They are certainly not alone.
Google & Microsoft Promote Privacy & Transparency Tools
Google and Microsoft have been busy responding to privacy concerns as well. In preparation for its Windows 10 release, Microsoft has created a privacy dashboard. According to Blair Hanley Frank for PC World, the dashboard “gives users links to control data stored for personalizing their experience on Bing, what apps and services use their information, whether Microsoft personalizes ads for them and whether the company can market to them via email.”
Perhaps most telling is this quote from Microsoft’s deputy general counsel, Horatio Gutiérrez, who described the changes as a move to create “straightforward terms and policies that people can easily understand.” The simplification of privacy policies by framing the terms in clear language is one of the major issues for privacy advocates, and Microsoft’s decision to highlight this move as a talking point goes to show how they are aware privacy consciousness is not only good PR, but good for their customers.
Google is also making news with transparency and user control. The company’s new “privacy hub” allows users to educate themselves about their privacy options and control those settings from a central location. Available at https://myaccount.google.com/, the hub offers controls for all of Google’s properties and services as well as “checkups” designed to walk customers through their options.
While the ability to control privacy settings is not necessarily new, the fact that tech giants are actively promoting privacy controls and their position on privacy is strong evidence that these companies see privacy as an emerging driver in consumer choice and brand image. This, in turn, has a direct impact on corporate responsibility and broader privacy choices for consumers. It’s a definite win for the privacy movement.
Privacy Beyond the Market
Finally, it’s important to pause and reflect why privacy matters beyond the market. If we don’t keep in mind the broader implications of privacy in society, we risk losing sight of the big picture when it comes to protecting privacy.
Privacy is a human right, and though it may be a right that many of us choose to ignore out of apathy, ignorance, or personal preference, there’s a compelling argument that we should see privacy as a collective good.
As Babak Siavoshy writes in his article, “Why privacy matters even if you don’t care about it”:
“When properly balanced, privacy rights protect the creative process; they create space for deviance, and for experimentation; they allow for the testing and weeding out of weak arguments; they create new pathways for minority viewpoints and groups to gain public support, and for unpopular legal and political arguments to move from off the wall to on the wall.”
We should take heart from big brands elevating their privacy messaging, but we shouldn’t let “privacy” slip by as a marketing buzzword alone. We should support these efforts, but hold companies accountable to their privacy promises. Let’s continue to keep the discussion alive.
After all, it’s all about privacy.