I don’t know if I should blame growing older, compounding cynicism, an impending mortgage, or my inflated sense of self worth for my reaction to Google’s offer to buy my privacy. I expected I would think, “This is an outrage! Sirs and madams, let this corporate behemoth know we shall not be bought so easily!” instead of “Is that all I’m worth?”
I should disclose that I’m quite cavalier about letting any old Tom, Dick and Harry on the internet have access to my data. I would even go so far as to say that I could not care less about my privacy where data-gathering is concerned. With two exceptions.
First, if data gathered on me is not lumped into a mega ‘big data’ pile then we have a problem. For example, let’s say that I give my address to a Mr Tom Google who notices that I happen to purchase my meats from my favorite butcher on Main Street. Mr Google in turn takes my address, lumps it into a giant excel sheet of addresses he has gathered from other customers who patronize the Main Street butcher and sells this mega list to a competing seller of meats across town on Walnut Street. I have no problem with this. It’s removed from me, I’m just an address. While my identity can be reverse engineered with enough trouble, I trust that Tom Google is not going to be selling my information to someone who’s going to be a bother.
Speaking of being bothered, if the data that has been collected on me causes a nuisance, my willingness to share takes disappears. Returning to meat selling, let’s say that instead of friendly Tom Google we have outside the butcher Dick Facebook. Now Dick isn’t a bad guy. He asks for my address, I kindly give it to him. Except now I have to sign up with the Walnut Street meat vendor to receive notifications about his latest sales. And then suddenly that meat vendor is in my face telling me how awesome his rib eye steak is and I’m wanting to take my fist to Dick’s throat for getting me into this. While Tom plays it smart by getting my info and staying sly, Dick makes a fuss about it and make me think about how maybe I’m giving him more info than I should.
Now the third exception (I know I said there were two exceptions to not willingly giving up my data, but I’ve lied to you. The whole reason I wrote this post is because I thought of a third exception: I won’t willingly give up my data if I know someone else might pay more for it.
I leave the butcher a third time and again, Tom Google asks me for some delicious data. He wants to know exactly what I bought but this time he’s going to give me a $5 gift certificate to Harry Amazon’s store across the street. “Wow,” I think, “thanks Tom Google!” and happily flounce away.
Let’s imagine one final, hypothetical trip to the butcher. This time, however, I notice that Harry Amazon is outside – and he’s not offering a measly $5 gift certificate, but $10 and a %25 discount to his store. Tom Google doesn’t want to pay any more than that so I give my data to Harry and flounce away even happier than before.
“Man,” I think, “that Tom Google is a cheap bastard! Harry Amazon knows how to help a brother out!”
Now every time I go to the butcher I’m looking for a bigger better deal on the way out.
Of course, Google does not have much in the way of competition for buyers looking to gobble up my data. But I do wonder if maybe this is not the first step to a kind of public marketplace where privacy and data can be sold to the highest bidder. Where Tom Google, Dick Facebook, Harry Amazon and Jim Microsoft stand outside every shop in town and cajole every passerby with the best offers for their coveted information. And, so long as I stay relatively anonymous and don’t get pestered, I’m willing to sell to the highest bidder.
OK. Maybe I’m just greedy.