When staring into the screens of your favourite devices, there will be software monitoring every click and swipe. Wherever we walk or drive, there will be an increasing number of CCTV cameras that capture our movements. Welcome to life in the living and breathing 21st-century surveillance system.
Retailers are currently testing eye-tracking technology with willing participants to see the world through the eyes of their customers. Leaked documents also revealed that Facebook informed advertisers that they could identify in real-time when teenagers were feeling insecure, worthless, and need of a confidence boost.
Tech companies now arguably have more power than governments by harvesting personal data to better profile, target, and sell you things you want, but not necessarily need. The data from your endless scrolling can even influence how you vote by serving up content that fits your world view rather than challenge it.
Data exploitation has become the new currency. Vast amounts of information gained from our online actions are then used to provide the personalized experiences that we crave. But is sacrificing privacy for convenience is falling out of fashion?
A "Techlash" is gathering pace as users break out of their dopamine fuelled echo chambers. Many are waking up to the fact that it's personalization technology vendors with a solution to sell that has convinced everyone to sacrifice their data for convenience.
How personalization and tracking negatively affects online experiences
The inconvenient truth is that the tracking of consumers is often detrimental to the online experience it promised to enhance. Ghostery, the digital intelligence company, discovered that Ad-tech stacks are negatively affecting customer experiences. But it also adversely affects the performance of the retail website too. The only real winner appears to be the tech vendor selling the solution.
Awareness that Ad trackers are not only a threat to their privacy but are also responsible for doubling page load times is making many think differently. Privacy, trust, and consumer convenience is a delicate balancing act that will determine if a personalized experience drifts into the creepy territory or not.
However, consumers are now beginning to demand greater trust and transparency around how their personal data is used. These new attitudes are creating opportunities for businesses to make privacy a unique selling point.
The big tech companies turning privacy into a strategic selling point
Apple CEO Tim Cook quickly capitalized on the changing mood of consumers by warning tech companies to take responsibility for the chaos they have created as a result of their innovations. Apple went on to announce a single sign-on option where users can use their Apple ID online and visit websites without having to share any personal information.
There is an argument that the announcement was a cynical move to leverage the privacy-conscious mood of the moment. At the same time, it enables the company to keep users in the safe walled gardens of the Apple ecosystem away from the tech bad guys.
With an increasing distrust of all social media platforms, users now understand that free platforms mean that they are the product. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, also quickly realized that taking a strong position on data privacy could be advantageous. By announcing that Twitter would be rejecting all political advertising on its platform, the social media giant was attempting to differentiate itself from the pack.
Microsoft has also made its intentions clear around the subject of data privacy by supporting the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) rather than resisting it. But the bigger question, is will the market reward these tech companies for taking a stance on privacy?
Why do consumers say they care about privacy but act differently?
If we look back at the origins of our online behaviour, it seems as users we have been on a transformational journey too. Before social media sites arrived, the internet-enabled people to be completely anonymous and even create an alternative online persona. This era was perfectly encapsulated in a New York Times cartoon, with the famous phrase "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."
Here in 2020, privacy and anonymity have become just a memory that we look back on our internet history through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. Consumers often say they are passionate about privacy, but their actions suggest otherwise.
Despite an infamous reputation around exploiting the privacy of its users, Facebook carried on regardless by announcing a video chat service called Portal. Who would add a device that could potentially be always watching and listening to their living rooms from a company with a long list of privacy scandals attached to its brand?
You could be forgiven for thinking that it was yet another example of an out of touch tech company that doesn't understand its now privacy-aware users. But despite the demands of privacy, many still refuse to sacrifice the life of convenience they have become accustomed to.
Many users declare they care about privacy. But then don't live it. If digital experiences are relevant and convenient, maybe privacy is deemed a fair trade. But what else are you unwittingly accepting? And do you really care?
As a user, you can choose to reward the companies that are taking a proactive approach towards privacy. Or you can continue to fill your home with cameras, microphones, and a variety of always online appliances and devices. Privacy might be the new selling point, but it will be our future consumption habits that will determine if we really do care about privacy.