A recent video by Reputation.com got us thinking over here. Whether you are writing the privacy news, trying to sell a privacy product, or trying to further a privacy agenda, scaring people will eventually hurt your chances for success.
As the makers of a privacy product, it’s very tempting to use the vehicle of fear as a means to push our product and message. And, I’ll admit, every time there’s another news article titled “Advertising Companies Secretly Track Your Web History” that features Ghostery, we get an agreeably large spike in downloads. But the simple fact is that, unlike the title above, TARGETED ADS ARE NOT A SECRET. Everybody that uses the Internet can see Google Ads targeted at their search terms.
Even so, while it’s not a huge secret, the average user doesn’t really know how data collection and behavioral advertising works – and they generally don’t really care to. It’s pretty boring for most people, and can get pretty complicated. This is why, whenever privacy is featured in the news, it’s always “spiced up.”
Fear is a visceral feeling. It’s a part of our fight or flight response systems, put in place by evolution to help us protect our offspring and ourselves. When we’re confronted with something scary, we don’t think, we just do. There’s a multimillion-dollar industry built entirely on plotless horror movies because of this. It is also, unfortunately, the same way many organizations and people market privacy. Yes, privacy is one of the most important issues facing us today. No, we do not want to lose all humanity and become a part of “the machine,” having it monitor our movements constantly. Now chill out. You’re distracting people from the real issue – the issue that is underlying their fear: they don’t understand what’s is going on. Scaring people only muddies the water and confuses people further as to what happens with their privacy on the Internet.
As responsible, public-facing professionals, we should be working to educate people about the organizations that monitor them, and we should provide them with effective tools to help them control their privacy. So, if you have a website, or command public opinion on a website, don’t be a plotless horror film. Leave that to, well, the horror film makers. Instead, tell your readers about how you or the publication you work for uses tracking scripts, and how digital advertising/data collection works to power various aspects of the web and its content, as well as how people need to pay attention to those companies that would gather data irresponsibly to protect their privacy.