In 1999, a prophetic Aaron Sorkin wrote a line for one of his characters in the West Wing when discussing the “next big thing” the President should be focused on:

 “In the 20s and 30s it was the role of government. In the 50s and 60s it was civil rights. The next 20 years it will be about privacy. The Internet. Cell phones. Health records. And who’s gay and who’s not. Besides, in a country born on the will to be free, what could be more fundamental than this?” 

Privacy isn’t a fundamental right granted to us by any major legislation, but it is a major force and conversation that we have to be party to as people working in tech. Privacy is a BIG topic and one that can be so overwhelming in its scope that it can be hard to keep track with. 

To put it in context for the work we do at Shockoe: Anytime we segment, track, or personalize, we are peeling the curtain back for our end users privacy. This is a sliding scale in terms of level of detail and effectiveness. These tools allow for a massive upside to our end user experience – better search results, more relevant content and ability to find customers who could benefit from our client’s products. These are also the same practices that allow for situations like Cambridge Analytica to convert clicks to votes. 

What are the Components of Digital Privacy?

Digital fingerprinting is a huge part in tracking. It is the tooling that allows us to identify just enough about you that we can say with some level of confidence who you are, what you like and what we can show you. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great tool that shows you more how this works.

Personalization is the result of some powerful engineering and good underlying data. It’s also why people want you to stay in their ecosystem – whether it’s Amazon, Android or Apple. They are all able to leverage your behaviors to offer and create better products. This is a service users enjoy and businesses benefit from. There is a mutual exchange that occurs because of data that requires some privacy sacrifices. We can’t personalize if we don’t know who you are. Discover Weekly is one of the coolest things to happen to my music listening since I got my first CD (Smashmouth’s AllStar) as a kid. This is rooted in me trusting Spotify to take my behaviors and use them for good.

What is Shockoe’s take on digital privacy?

We must ask ourselves a set of important questions with every product we enter: What can we bring into the world that demystifies these practices for customers, creates trust and allows for us to still effectively iterate and measure our digital products? Moreover, when we collect this data, how do we make that benefit front and center to customers through our features and functions?

When the value exchange is clear and simple, we do right by our clients and their customers. It’s when it’s muddy that things get… weird. Providing clarity and overcoming confusion should be a goal in everything we design and develop. What’s the best version of an actually readable privacy policy? Do we simply extend the Apple privacy nutrition labels into our onboarding? It’s easy to just borrow best practices at the time – but best practices can lead to inadvertent mistakes and less trust. 

Privacy will be critical to our field both now and forever. Regardless of title – Engagement Managers, Project Managers, Designers, Devs or Strategists – we are all going to have to find ways to improve on this and help our clients present the best solutions for customers while helping those same customers feel safe in knowing their need for privacy is both recognized and respected.

Where do we go from here?

There is certainly no silver bullet. Acknowledging the issue is half the battle; what remains is a dogged focus on constantly improving the balance between privacy and personalization.

One thing Shockoe is pushing for is to have our data usage clarified for all customers. A general “What do you know about me” screen can clarify the confusion and help end users feel secure about how their data is being used. a lot of the confusion and fears around data. 

But this is just the beginning. We approach things on a case by case basis and would love to hear more about what you are doing to balance privacy and personalization in what you design and develop. We would like to hear more about your take on privacy, hit us up on any of our social channels.

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