Knowledge is power and personal data is one's most valuable asset in this information age.
How then to go about protecting this vault of credit card numbers, spending habits, product/professional/recreational interests and brand preferences from the certain peril of data sniffers and eroding privacy barriers?
Emailbrain looks at recent developments in the privacy practices of major online vendors to help shed light on how the margin between information fair-game and the sacred ground of personal security is shrinking.
Recent developments in the email, social couponing and social media spheres have again punctuated the extent and impact of internet privacy issues. Social data vines and metric mining techniques for direct promotions are more or less part of all the online services that everyone makes use of today. No tweet, Facebook update, profile tidbit, transaction, tag, mobile or email message goes unlogged. All in the name of convenience, we leave a nearly unshakable trail of digital footprints with every click.
Whenever we use the Internet, the Internet is also using us - to paraphrase Voltaire. Here then is a round-up of some of the latest shifts in the information snooping landscape, and advice on how to deadbolt your most sensitive details:
• Yahoo! has officially joined the ranks of prominent e-mail service providers which scan your content to deliver targeted text ads and other relevant information to online retailers. Yahoo! is urging its users to sign up to its new scanning technology service that would help block spam and eventually offer adverts. Though some say this is a blatant intrusion of privacy, Yahoo! claims that a box will appear asking for users' consent in order to look for keywords and links to further protect them from junk mail and to provide a 'faster, more social and safer experience'.
Keep your communications clean. Yahoo! is only one of many email clients taking a sniff at your personal content, so it pays to compartmentalize your marketing, e-commerce, social and other exchanges and stay true to how you profile yourself professionally on all your email and mobile transmissions.
• Group deals giant Groupon, too, will now start sharing data on consumer interests and habits with third-parties. Other information it shares includes contact information, relationship information, transaction information and mobile location information. The company provided extensive details on the way it collects, stores and shares data on its users recently, but these changes should invite greater inspection by privacy advocates to social and mobile couponing.
The modern commercial environment has made it true that “you are what you buy”. Not unlike your credit record, one’s coupon history adds another layer to how your expenses can be scrutinized and should not be consigned as a meaningless source of personal profiling information. After all, looking at what someone is actively purchasing reveals a lot about who they are, what their income is and what kind of promotions they are the most susceptible to.
• In the public eye, Google Plus lets you choose how your profile will look to others on the web, even if the days of profile privacy have been numbered. The main substance to Google’s claim to enhanced privacy come from the fact that sharing within individual Circles is isolated and gives more activity-based privacy to the user – but reveal nothing on how Google will be monitoring, logging and utilizing information gained from these interactions. Google has also been aggressive about automatically creating circles of friends, which inadvertently revealed whom you’ve been corresponding with on Gmail.
Looking at the big picture however, it’s difficult to fathom why privacy watchdogs are feasting on the new Yahoo! email scanning practices when search, communication and now social giant Google is continuously on the Federal Trade Commission’s naughty list, facing endless subpoenas, investigations and antitrust probes. And not to forget Google Buzz, which has been at the heart of a privacy fiasco just like so many of their other products in the past.
Google Plus works by allowing us to group our contacts intuitively, therefore doing the work of aggregating groups of people with similar sets of interest for them – prime data for segmented direct marketing and social coupon and/or group deals. It is the virtual equivalent of sticking a big label on the forehead of everyone you know and has the potential to elevate Google’s paid marketing prowess to the next dimension.
Not content with making it hard for people to export their Facebook contacts to Google+, now more than ever the iconic social network will be looking to smite any and all defectors. If you are already on the Google+ network, it’s not advisable to let the one hand know what the other is doing. But this is true of all information on all digital platforms – keeping one block of information separate from another is a necessary practice. Organizing our lives into jars of data is fine, however there is some potential for one circle contaminating another, so one needs to be vigilant and not mix business with pleasure or professional with private.
Social networking companies, social deals sites and major email clients use troves of user information to serve up personalized business offerings and advertisements, particularly through location-based services. From the beginnings of computing, enterprise IT has ultimately been about the data. Having your information on display is not a bad thing and can be helpful as it does help email filters recognize spam and often allow the products or services that you are looking for to find you - but keeping information confined to certain online activities or certain networks can be a challenge and one should avoid working with any ESP or SAAS that does not act in your best interest to insulate your information.
Furthermore, our segmentation tools allow you to subdivide your data per interest, age group, gender and so on. We maintain a very transparent use of data collection: Send out a mobile campaign poll or let readers subscribe to the newsletter of their interest right from the start. We also have automated emails (trigger-mail) that allow one to send more segmented info based on clicks in a newsletter.