Did Consumer Behavior Tracking Come of Age on September 11?
September 11 was no "tipping point" for acceleration in the loss of privacy. That's the conclusion to be drawn from responses to this month's column. Rather the loss of privacy is a natural product of the information age and has been under way for some time. As Michael Gorman observed, "Chat rooms and corporate message boards have had a much more profound change on the privacy of business organizations than the tragic events of 9/11."
There is almost a tone of resignation in the responses. For example, Robin Chacko suggests that "We chose the information age and with it comes a price: privacy. If monitoring is a good way to provide security, so be it."
Have we become so accustomed, however gradually, to the idea of oversight that surveillance in the name of transparency is a mere increment in a long-established trend?
—Professor James Heskett
Another line of thought suggests that the questions concerning trends in the loss of privacy may be somewhat irrelevant anyway. Rick Kennedy asserted, for example, that "'Privacy' and, for that matter, 'security' are and have always been illusions... 9/11 did (however) provide a 'tipping point' for a greater awareness of what the concept of privacy entails, like Plato's prisoners discovering that they had been observing and talking about shadows as opposed to the objects themselves."
The tone of these responses raises several questions. Have we become so accustomed, however gradually, to the idea of oversight that surveillance in the name of transparency is a mere increment in a long-established trend? Is this in part a function of the reminders of the benefits of transparency and oversight in the wake of the collapse of an Enron? And has this state of affairs opened the doors a bit wider for the implementation of systems designed to enable our behaviors as consumers to be tracked even more fully? What do you think?
In the past several years, significant fears have been expressed concerning the growing loss of personal privacy, especially for users of the Internet and credit or debit cards. The rapid accumulation of information in data warehouses, as reflected in the value of EMC stock (at least up to a year ago), was testimony to this, regardless of whether very many organizations had figured out how to use the data effectively either for or against us as consumers.
Then came September 11 and the perceived need for increased surveillance of possible terrorists. According to a survey by Harris Interactive the very next week, 86% of Americans responding advocated the use of facial-recognition technology, 81% supported the closer monitoring of banking and credit card transactions, and 68% would agree to the adoption of a national identification system for all U.S. citizens.
Clearly, the behavior of U.S. citizens and those circulating among them could be tracked by this technology much more effectively than by anything in existence today. And it might happen someday, regardless of vows to concentrate the technologies on suspected terrorists. But that's not the point here.
The point (and questions it raises): Was September 11 a "tipping point" in our fear of loss of privacy? That is, will we become so used to surveillance in the name of tracking terrorists that we begin to take it for granted as consumers? In fact, will we one day look back on September 11 as a point in time when data warehousers were able to take a significant step forward in fully utilizing the treasure trove of personal data they possess? Will the consequences net out positively or negatively in our personal and business lives? What do you think?