The Problem With Privacy Is How We Define It

There's a fundamental disconnect between how consumers define privacy and how the companies providing our digital communication tools define it.


More than half of Internet users in the U.S. are on social media. And while many people are concerned about their privacy, sharing our information on platforms like Facebook is the price we pay for being connected to our friends and family around the globe.

According to Jean Dobey, CEO of Virtual Artifacts, a company that creates technologies that empower consumers to protect their privacy online, we’re approaching the issue all wrong. Consumers aren’t ambivalent, the process is too complicated and people simply don’t have the patience to figure it out.

“Sure, people want their privacy,” Dobey says. “But it has to be really dumb, really simple. If it’s too complex, we won’t do it. It takes too much time.”

Dobey says the underlying problem is that consumers and tech companies like Google and Facebook define privacy in very different ways. When Facebook tells users it wants to protect their privacy, what people don’t realize is that Facebook defines privacy differently than we do in real life.

Facebook’s business is not to protect privacy, it is facilitate connections between people and brands. Likewise, Google’s business model is to make information easily discoverable and serve ads to its users.

“Google doesn’t hide the fact that it does advertising and that it needs to know more about the people using the platform,” Dobey says. “Facebook does the same thing.”

While he asserts that companies need to be very clear about how they define privacy, he also insists that consumers need to take more responsibility by being more selective about what we share and with whom we share. He calls for the next generation of communication tools that enables digital privacy the way we think about it naturally.

“When it comes to what we call privacy, it’s just me defining a [group] of people and the content I want to share,” he says. “This is what we call privacy.”

Publish date: September 5, 2014 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT