Private Thoughts on Privacy

Hello to my adoring fans. Once again – shoutout to Rick in accounting. You are a tremendous support.

Speaking of Rick - as I was typing that in this Google Doc - Google tried to auto complete Rick’s last name: Plautz.

This week isn’t about Rick Plautz, who is a professor Dan and I had back in grad school, and a fun dude to drink tequila with on a Tuesday. This is about one of the biggest waves coming towards Big Tech (and us by proxy).

I’m typing this in a google doc with my shockoe email. I have no idea why Google knew to put Plautz in my doc.

Our theme this week: Privacy.

I remember as a kid watching the West Wing episode: the short list - where the Supreme Court is trying to reconcile what right we have to privacy. Rob Lowe’s Sam says “It’s about the next twenty years. The ‘20s and ‘30s it was the role of government, ‘50s and ‘60s it was civil rights, the next two decades are gonna be privacy! I’m talking about the internet. I’m talking about cell phones… And moreover: 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. And privacy is a BIG topic and one that can be so overwhelming in its scope that it can be hard to track with.

To put it in context for the work we do: 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 Analtytica to convert clicks to votes. More details here.

So how does this stuff even work? 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 rad 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.

With new clients coming down the pipeline and projects spinning up – 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? And even more so - 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.

There are spoils for the firms that know how to do this and can help companies crack these problems. And there’s room for some novelty here. What’s the best version of an actually readable privacy policy? How do we extend the Apple privacy nutrition labels into our onboarding? These are problems we skirt just by following the best practices at the time - but best practices led to some wild shit over the years and less trust in tech now than a decade ago.

Privacy is critical to our field over the next 10 years. Be it ems, pms, designers, devs or the chandlers and masons – we are all going to have to find ways to improve on this.
Why can’t we define the next best practice of this? What are we going to bring to the table to make positive change?