How much do online marketers and websites know about us? Do they save records on what we’ve bought, sites we’ve visited, people we’ve contacted? It’s a subject that few of us bother with until we find out our private information has been stolen or inadvertently been made public.
And privacy concerns have been front and center lately as MySpace and Facebook have announced new ad targeting plans that will serve us more relevant ads based on our social networking profiles. If we like a certain type of music, we can expect to see ads for similar musical acts. If we live in a certain place, are of a certain age, we might be targeted by a brand trying to reach us.
And Facebook has even drawn the wrath of MoveOn with its Beacon feature that shows our friends what products and services we have bought on sites outside of Facebook. Just as there were howls of protest about Facebook’s news feeds — that were later accepted by users — there are now concerns that Beacon will upset people who don’t see the opt-out options and have their porn DVD purchases broadcast to friends and business associates.
I have already talked about some very basic web privacy issues while on the Newshour program on Nov. 6. But since that time, more concerns have surfaced and the debate has intensified over web privacy and what we know about what they know about us. Marketers and websites want to make money, consumer groups want to protect our privacy, and federal regulators are stuck in the middle. So I thought the time was right to draw up some basic rights we should have as online denizens.
The Web Privacy Manifesto
We, the people, who live our lives online would like for the marketers, commerce companies and commercial websites to respect our need for control over our personal information. We understand your need to make money and find customers for your products and services. We also realize that some of our favorite websites depend on advertising to stay in business and provide a free-of-charge site for our enjoyment.
However, the current system of tracking our behavior online and asking us to trust you to keep that information anonymous and private has gone on too long. We seek to have explanations in plain English describing what your privacy policies are, how long you retain our data, and how we can opt out. We don’t want hard-to-find, convoluted solutions that take hours to decipher. Please work with us instead of against us, and find out what we think about your marketing systems before you put them into place.
Again, we are not opposed to relevant marketing and advertising messages, as long as we are certain that our personal information is being protected as fiercely as you protect your businesses.
If you want to serve us targeted advertising, we ask that you:
> Never turn over identifiable information about us to advertisers or marketers, and that this information is used only in the aggregate.
> Explain this process clearly when we register for the site that serves up such advertisements. If we have already registered, then please drop us a note about the way you serve advertising and allow us to register our preferences.
> Allow us to easily opt out of targeted advertising.
> Allow us to go in and optionally describe the products and services that really do interest us, basically letting us fine-tune the way you target ads to us.
If you want to include a news feed of our activities, we ask that you:
> First explain in detail how this system would work to every user.
> Give us multiple ways to opt out or opt in before the system goes live. We should be able to easily opt out of the entire news feed, or opt out for particular sites or purchases.
> Allow us to eliminate some “friends” from this news feed, so that certain business associates might not see purchases we deem to be inappropriate.
If you want to use our endorsement to sell your product to our friends, we ask that you:
> Give us a chance to opt out from some or all of these features before they launch. Explain how the system works ahead of time.
> Share the wealth. Figure out a way to give us some type of commission — whether a discount coupon or cash back — for the recommendations we make that are taken up by friends.
> Give us ways to promote products we like. If we really do want to recommend a book, a movie or a new gadget, we should be able to do that in an organic way to people in our social network without the heavy marketing angle.
> Allow us to give negative feedback on products or services that works as easily as giving endorsements.
> Provide an open forum for people to share their positive and negative experiences with the product or service.
As online denizens, we will flock to the websites and services that work with us in a transparent way, that explain the way they will market to us in advance, that will let us opt out easily from any marketing system. And we will run, not walk, from services that don’t respect us as human beings who value our privacy in an increasingly public world.
What do you think? Would you sign on to such a manifesto? Why or why not? And if you would like to add your own passages to the manifesto, please do so in the comments and I’ll update this post with the best ones (with credit to you).