I keep waiting for this headline to appear.
In the ongoing struggle between privacy and convenience, convenience often seems to win without much debate. Marketing and advertising professionals seem to have unlocked the key to getting consumers happily hand over data about themselves: simply offer some rewards. If you let us track all of your grocery purchases and sell that information, we’ll give you 5 whole percent off! Stay at our hotel 30 times as part of our loyalty rewards program and get one night free during the off season! Tie your American Express card to your Foursquare account and take $5 off your next meal purchase! And on, and on.
We are endlessly willing to give up our valuable information so that it can be analyzed, tracked, sold and used to get us to buy even more – all for these meager rewards of a few dollars.
So why shouldn’t the NSA offer their own loyalty reward program? Opt-in! Agree to let the NSA track your cellphone metadata! Install a plug-in that automatically uploads browser activity to their storage servers! Your loyalty will be rewarded with a $1,000 tax rebate courtesy of the IRS!
How many people do you think would opt-in? I’d be willing to bet the numbers would be huge – instantly the most popular loyalty rewards program of all time.
Of course, if you didn’t opt-in, wouldn’t that mean you had something to hide?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t stand outside of or above this criticism; however, I’m having a little bit of trouble coming to terms with how we can be so (justifiably) upset by the NSA’s dataveillance on the one hand, and so willing to be “loyal” to companies by handing over our data on the other hand. Is there a difference that I’m missing?