The ‘Right to be Forgotten’ – Ode to Solitude

Alexander Pope is making a 21st Century comeback. I’d love to be in Google’s conference room as the team there decides just how to adhere to a European court’s decision that European citizens have a right to be forgotten (on Google). Or what about email? A UK court just took a British retailer to task—John Lewis—for having a pre-checked form box for new customers that permits an email communication to the paying customer, along with an easy-to-use opt-out

Alexander Pope is making a 21st Century comeback.

I’d love to be in Google’s conference room as the team there decides just how to adhere to a European court’s decision that European citizens have a right to be forgotten (on Google).

Or what about email? A UK court just took a British retailer to task—John Lewis—for having a pre-checked form box for new customers that permits an email communication to the paying customer, along with an easy-to-use opt-out. The court found that a customer having to uncheck a box is just too taxing, and more than that, a privacy violation.

Here’s an interesting Ken Magill point of view.

I confess that I, too, am a bit of a reactionary to all of this. If commerce is so evil, if advertising is such a privacy violation, maybe we should just pack it up and go back to serving consumers and making money—and paying taxes, and generating jobs—here at home.

Can you imagine what types of costs Google will incur in its attempt to comply—never mind the impact on Google’s utility in Europe? Certainly John Lewis is taking the matter seriously, as it should. As reported in The Register (UK):

A John Lewis spokeswoman said: “Mr Mansfield voluntarily gave us his email address, set up an account online and chose not to opt out of marketing communications when that option was available to him. This case was a very specific set of circumstances and in this instance whilst we do not agree with the decision, we will abide by it. We apologise to Mr Mansfield that he was inconvenienced by our emails.”

Let’s be sure none of this zaniness creeps into our policy and case law here (ethics and best practices are another story), for the sake of our economy.

Sometimes I look to Europe and I scratch my head—yet there are some in America who want to bring these inflexible regimes here. While I respect different cultures for privacy around the world, let’s not sacrifice trade and commerce on the altar of some notion of gaining privacy, when in truth, marketing innovation and privacy can, and do, move along in concert. I guess some parts of the world figure that advertisers are all big brands who spend money only on image campaigns, and then sit back and wait for customers to come to them. In short, if you don’t have the Euros, you don’t get to compete.

Seriously, if an individual wants to be Rip Van Winkle, go to sleep for 20 years and don’t bother participating in the marketplace. Don’t drive. Don’t vote. Don’t shop. Don’t look at your mail. Don’t subscribe to any newspapers or magazines, or watch TV. Don’t browse the Internet. Don’t donate to causes—or to campaigns. And please, don’t tell me you’re a privacy advocate, or even participate in opt-out programs.

Because I’m just going to flag your name and store it in a database somewhere so I can reference you (apparently inappropriately) along with other “privacy-sensitive” folks, or to omit future communication. I certainly don’t want to bother you with any information—such as a product or service to help you protect your privacy, or bolster your security.

The “business” of privacy is booming, even as the “ethics” of privacy in marketing have been around in industry codes for decades. Browsers offer private surfing, and there are apps that allow you to cover your tracks. But how could someone know to learn about these services if we’re all forced to forget such a person by default?

All marketers want to do is create and serve a customer—and they go to great lengths to ensure an opt-out is honored. Where’s the harm? Answer: In commerce, there are only winners. While we can choose to lower our profile through myriad ways, to mandate such profiles as a legal default is to deny the very intelligence—and our consumer economy—that data has served to create.

And here is Alexander Pope on the matter:

Ode on Solitude
Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Whose heards with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest! who can unconcern’dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mix’d; sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me dye;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lye.

—Alexander Pope (1688-1744)