Trading Privacy For Convenience In Online Retail

June 15, 2015 Jessica Thiele

apple fingerprint scanner iphone 6

When was the last time you thought about your digital fingerprint?

We’re entering an age where we order more and more online, and subsequently think less and less about the mechanisms that allow that latest and greatest tech to be delivered right to our doorstep. Half the time we don’t even have to enter our billing information: if PayPal isn’t a payment option, then the ecommerce store remembers our information from the last time we purchased with them.

We seem to be alright with our digital profile floating around out there, potentially unprotected.

On the one hand: this is great. Convenient for me as a consumer, convenient for the businesses I buy from as they can further build my customer profile based on my transactional data and loyalty memberships. And at 129.73 million Canadian loyalty program memberships as of March 2015, we Canadians sure do love to be loyal. (Quick reminder: there are only 35.16 million Canadians coast to coast, meaning each of us has an average of 3.6 loyalty memberships.)

On the other hand, my digital profile – my virtual fingerprint of who I am, what I like, and my payment info – is floating around on the web. My privacy and financial security is essentially being entrusted to a bunch of corporate strangers. And we all know how that can sometimes end. Here’s a quick reminder: Home Depot, Staples, Sony Pictures, and more recently the US Federal Government.

The notion of what privacy is has rapidly evolved in parallel with the age of the internet. While perceived risks to the traditional idea of privacy have increased, we’ve been putting more and more of who we are online for anyone to view. Email, blogs, buying a collection of Disney-inspired dog outfits off eBay – it’s all out there and can potentially be hacked into by unsavory third parties at any time. And for the most part, we seem to be alright with our digital profile floating around out there, potentially unprotected – that is, until we have two new Mac Book Airs show up on our credit card bill but not at our doorstep.

apple privacy letter tim cook

As the tech gets smarter… privacy will be even harder to nail down.

But the idea of privacy online is far from finished in its evolution. At Apple’s 2015 Worldwide Developers Conference last week, privacy was a subject of discussion. Apple, perhaps witnessing the repeated privacy bungles that seem to happen once a week these days, has come to realize that privacy is still important. And as the tech gets smarter and more artificial intelligence powered by our consumer transactional and loyalty-generated data, privacy will be even harder to nail down.

It’s clear that privacy is a continually evolving notion, and with the acceleration of the digital age, we can expect the next decades to be infinitely interesting in terms of how we perceive, manage, and control privacy on personal and corporate planes.

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