A different perspective on privacy

Sven Krumrey

Talking to people with different opinions can make for a worthwhile experience and broadens your horizon. That's why I found my recent encounter doubly interesting as my dialog partner not only doesn't care about elaborately detailed customer profiles but considers them advantageous and a give and take situation. Welcome to the world of Thomas*, a civil servant in his mid-forties who takes everything in stride. That doesn't mean he has no clear opinion though.

The predictable customer

With Thomas, it is, as he himself says, an open door policy. Unlike me, he never took a closer look at the various Windows settings once he installed the OS with default settings. Likewise, Google has permission to do anything on his Android phone and he always confirms every request. This means smooth sailing. Google Maps knows the locations relevant to him and basically displays a map of his life. All available wizards are enabled and keep him posted on the things he cares about and he simply laughs off any extraneous details. To him, the benefits outweigh the occasional irrelevancies and he already owns an Amazon Echo, naturally.

He likes to talk about fairness. Fair, to him, means he gladly pays with his data for free services. "Online, I can find more information, offers and services than anyone could have imagined 20 years ago. Webcams, traffic forecasts, news of all kinds, daily minutiae, it's all there. How often did I have to pick up the phone to ask for opening hours back in the day? Now, every detail is available online. I have access to current gas prices, products from all over the world as well as cultural and financial news in real time. I welcome and control this steady stream of information in this golden age of computing, so what do I care if companies know my advertising profile? At least, I won't be receiving ads for nonsense products all the time."

Part of your daily routine: current news via Internet Part of your daily routine: current news via Internet

Ad blockers are a last resort for him. "I can understand that people don't want to view ads but it just isn't fair. News, weather and entertainment portals all have to bear running costs for the necessary infrastructure, editorial staff etc. Yes, some companies make millions but they also bore the risk of failure in the past and paved the way for many technological innovations we use today. They wouldn't be as successful if fewer people were using them. Without ads, the Internet would either be dead or we would have to pay for many services and who'd want that? I only use ad blockers for pages that go overboard with ads but disable them for everything else."

That must be why he generally likes personalized ads and has only one hang-up. "I find it annoying that they don't know me better. In the past, I received the same ads as everybody else, possibly 5% of which genuinely interested me. The remaining ad spaces were sold to the highest bidder and it made no difference who was viewing them. It rarely happened that an ad caught my interest. Things still aren't perfect today. I'd really like more customization. Once I purchase something, I'm haunted by ads for the same or similar products for weeks. I'd like a button to signal I already bought the product and have no further interest in offers for this product type."

Knowing customers inside out - every company's dream

He doesn't wish for more but better quality ads. "I'd really like for them to know me like a regular customer. I've been going to the same clothing store for decades. Not only do they know my size but they also know my taste. Once I utter a wish, I seldom have to try the item on, their customer service is that good. I'd even be willing to state my measurements online because I hate being shown products that are out of stock in my size. Yes, I'd become more predictable as a customer but nobody's forcing me to buy, it's still my decision."

He'd love for his Internet to be like Netflix. "They know exactly what I like and always recommend titles worth watching. Why should I be worried about them knowing I enjoy documentaries? This way, I don't have to plow through multiple categories to find something I like. And what about the ticket store that notifies me when my favorite bands are doing a tour? How many concerts would I have missed otherwise? Do I really want to pick up the newspaper and tediously search through everything? As long as I am in control, I'll enjoy the benefits. I don't want to spend time installing various programs to fight something I don't consider a threat in the first place." And while he voice-dictates all of that into his cell phone, he looks very happy.

I've made a conscious decision not to voice my own opinion this time, I've done that often enough in previous articles. What do you think about his views?

*name changed

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