Security, Cowardly New World | Privacy, Brave New World

What kind of world have we become? To see Sony, theater owners and distributors initially cower over release of “The Interview,” in the face of a cyberterrorist threat was—and is—unnerving. Clearly, businesses feared that Sony’s victimhood would be exported to others. Yes, the movie eventually was released online and in limited theaters, but the initial fear expressed was disconcerting, to say the least.

What kind of world have we become? To see Sony, theater owners and distributors initially cower over release of “The Interview,” in the face of a cyberterrorist threat was—and is—unnerving. Clearly, businesses feared that Sony’s victimhood would be exported to others. Yes, the movie eventually was released online and in limited theaters, but the initial fear expressed was disconcerting, to say the least.

This incident shows how incapable company leaders must feel they are to thwart cyberattacks. Is data anywhere ever really secure in the face of determined malfeasance? I doubt most of the cinema owners were genuinely worried that theatergoers would be physically at risk of terrorism. Rather, it’s the data—proprietary, internal, sensitive, privileged, confidential and otherwise private—being unscrupulously stolen and, once out of the bottle, splayed across gossip pages by “news” media as if they scooped the story. Intellectual property, too, was compromised. Hollywood, actors and all, seemed frightened.

As cybersecurity—or lack of such security—plays out on the international stage, privacy—and Americans’ attitudes about it—is taking a more mature, nuanced posture.

A new Pew Research Center survey on privacy in found that many opinion leaders now realize that our online selves are public, social sharing is currency for being known (online), even if views are mixed over whether or not a privacy rights infrastructure will emerge during the next decade. Consumers will offer personal details in exchange for convenience quite readily.

As The Los Angeles Times reported, “‘Lack of concern about privacy stems from complacency because most people’s life experiences teach them that revealing their private information allows commercial (and public) organizations to make their lives easier (by targeting their needs), whereas the detrimental cases tend to be very serious but relatively rare,’ Bob Briscoe, chief researcher in networking and infrastructure for British Telecom, wrote in his response.”

To me, this is a signal that privacy is a fluid, dynamic state of mind. Our marketing lives are an ever-constant bartering of data—I give you this information about me, you will give me that product, service or convenience—and the only answer to “real” privacy is to never engage in a convenience or transaction. Not many people choose to be Rip Van Winkle. They might yearn for solitude, but it’s not pragmatic or practical.

Furthermore, I believe this “conversation” shows that there is danger in the rigidity of would-be privacy laws and regulations. Yes, privacy (and security) baselines are necessary—but we must not squelch responsible data collection and use, innovation and convenience, especially as consumers become more comfortable and more demanding. In the world of marketing data, self-regulation has served us well for the better part of 50 years. Outlaw fraud. Outlaw data theft. But let information flow where it may to serve consumers better. The White House said as much earlier this year in its Big Data report.

Now if only creative expression was allowed the same latitude. Some people may fret over today’s perceived loss of privacy, but it is security—is the Sony theft the costliest breach in history?—that has made business leaders run for the hills.

A happy, prosperous and free New Year to all.

Author: Chet Dalzell

Marketing Sustainably: A blog posting questions, opportunities, concerns and observations on sustainability in marketing. Chet Dalzell has 25 years of public relations management and expertise in service to leading brands in consumer, donor, patient and business-to-business markets, and in the field of integrated marketing. He serves on the ANA International ECHO Awards Board of Governors, as an adviser to the Direct Marketing Club of New York, and is senior director, communications and industry relations, with the Digital Advertising Alliance. Chet loves UConn Basketball (men's and women's) and Nebraska Football (that's just men, at this point), too! 

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