The Web Balancing Act – Privacy vs Personalization
Peter Cranstone discusses the issue of maintaing privacy online whilst still receiving high quality services -and his proposed solution.
Image: CC-BY-NC-SA Auntie P
In response to Dr Paul Bernal's piece on The Right to be Forgotten, we will be featuring a series of digital businesses who have created tools which they believe solve issues of online privacy.
The Web user is yearning for a better experience in exchange for a secure & trusted exchange of personal data. Unfortunately, these days, these two concepts are at odds. At 3PMobile® our vision is to make the mobile Web experience, faster, more private and more personal. We strive to balance the need for user data privacy and control, with the need for enterprise commerce and convenience. Our software helps consumers regain control over their data; sharing preferences without sacrificing convenience and gives businesses a tool to improve the experience and build greater trust and loyalty with their customers.
The Choice™ browser simplifies your ability to choose what data you want to share with whom and enables the content providers to programmatically use that data, in real-time, to deliver a personal, optimized mobile Web experience that does not require tracking. So why this is so important, should come as no surprise.
Our privacy is continuously being eroded so that we feel so exposed that we simply lie to continue using the convenience features built into many Web services. Unfortunately those lies perpetuate the delivery of irrelevant content, eroding the experience we desire. Is there a solution? Dare we dream to make a change that brings some respite from those who constantly seek to profile, categorize and predict our online behavior without our permission? Can we find a respectful balance?
Well being one of those optimistic, problem-solving people, I think there is. However, before we head down that road we need to stop for a second and look at the big picture. The Internet has been around for over 30 years. It literally connects billions of us via all manner of devices. Any solution involving Privacy must consider the current Internet design (the Web plumbing, so to speak) and ensure that any considered change will work now - and in the future. It also has to support existing business models and user expectations of what the Web “is” and “should be.”
That’s a pretty tall order. Currently there are over 650 million Web servers out there (link). Throw in several billion mobile devices, another billion or two desktop devices and you start to see the size of the problem you have to solve.
In summary, lots of devices, and lots of people, most of who are resistant to change. So before we start, we had better poll the ecosystem constituents and see what they want. This part is easy. There are only two to poll - the person who uses a browser (the client) and the person who owns the content (the Web server). It just so happened we did this six years ago. We spoke with hundreds of smartphone owners and dozens of Web content and service providers. It all boiled down to them wanting the following things from their mobile Web interactions:
The Customer Wants…
The Enterprise Wants…
Since we like to solve big problems at 3PMobile, we realized that in order for the mobile Web to thrive, we would need to develop the tools to align these competing interests. At the core of our tools is the Internet standard, called the HTTP protocol. It is the specification sheet for the Web and ensures that information can get from point A to point B to point Z and be understood by every browser and Web server connected to the Internet – today and tomorrow.
Well actually here’s our first bit of good news. I commonly refer to this as the “secret that is hidden in plain sight”. The Web design standard (HTTP) is “extensible”. That means it was designed with the foresight that someday, someone might need to add something to it using what is called an X-header.
This is actually a very, very simple and elegant way to add what would be considered non-standard data (like your name) to the standard communication between a browser and website or service, All you have to do is create something like this:
and you have a header. Wow, that’s really simple. Sure, there were some technical challenges to overcome, but that’s our problem, not yours. Okay – that’s as technical as I’m going to get. Back to solving the problem.
So now you can securely send information about yourself, your device’s capabilities and your location (in real-time) to a web service using X-headers. You’re probably asking yourself how does sending more data increase my privacy on the Internet? Good question! Let’s return for a minute to the opening line – “The end-user is yearning for a better experience in exchange for a secure & trusted exchange of personal data”.
What I want (the consumer) is a convenient and secure way to share data with a trusted entity. In exchange for that data I want a better experience – in other words, to know me is to love me, market to me, but NOT take advantage of me. By storing my data on my device and controlling with which sites I share that data, the web service has what it needs to deliver a great experience. With my permission, it now has real-time, information about me, my device and my location. I don’t need to be tracked. When I leave that website my data leaves with me.
Think of the analogy of paying for dinner at your favorite restaurant – I walk in, they recognize me. I’m seated at my favorite table, with my favorite drink waiting for, and my order has already been sent to the kitchen. Oh! And I get all this great service without having to leave my credit card information on file. They process it on the spot (literally at my table in most EU countries) and they give it right back. My card leaves with me, not to be seen again until I return again to my favorite restaurant.
Trust and transparency drive the relationship. The more transparency, the more I trust, the more I share, the better the experience. We’ve now aligned the constituents. I have a convenient way to share and control my privacy. The content provider has a simple way to target meaningful content and ads and optimize what I see in hopes of driving greater use and more revenue. It becomes a win-win for everybody.
In closing I think it’s vital that we update our vocabulary to include a more relevant and precise definition of Privacy. Privacy is my ability to control the “collection, use and flow” of my personal data. Using this definition you will see that it perfectly aligns with the improvements to the Internet plumbing I’ve described above. I control the collection, flow and use of my data, in return for that you give me a less intrusive, optimized experience that encourages me to engage in a commerce.
When you ask my permission, I’m more likely to share something honest and of value. When I do that, both personal and commercial objectives are balanced, which leads to a thriving Web community.
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