Amazon’s $10-a-Person Attempt to Wriggle Off Privacy Hook

I have been warning about online companies invading our privacy for years. Some very large companies now are under scrutiny by the U.S. government. As the pressure increases, Amazon seems to have come up with a creative solution. It has been offering to pay users US$10 for permission to track them. Interesting.

While $10 is practically nothing, this move does suggest companies are beginning to realize they crossed the line. They have a growing problem and are trying to find ways to solve it. This is a first step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.

Offering to pay users for permission to follow them illustrates Amazon’s approach to fixing this growing problem. Is this a way to show it has no evil intent in collecting personal and private information? Or is it a way to show it only wants to market more accurately to you? Perhaps a little of both.

Amazon: It’s Not Personal

One of the classic lines from The Godfather is “It’s not personal … it’s strictly business.”

Companies may adopt this attitude in an effort to lessen the growing pushback from both the U.S. government and users, but the choice to buy into that philosophy or not is ours.

Trying to keep the issue hidden was problematic. It was never center stage. Now that the secret is out, strategies must change — and this is the first step in that direction.

Some users don’t care about protecting their privacy online. They are more than willing to allow companies to track them. However, few fully understand what they may be giving up.

Other users see the risks and want to protect their personal privacy. Yet everyone needs protection, whether they are willing to be tracked or not.

The unbridled tracking of personal and private information may not sound like a big deal, but it is. Attention to this problem likely will lessen as the skeptical generation ages and dies. At that point today’s youth, who currently don’t seem to care, may be caught up in a dangerous world without any personal privacy protection.

They may not think they care about this issue until something happens in their lives that causes them to want privacy protection — but it might be too late. They won’t be able to erase all the data that has been collected about them over their lifetime.

Future Tech: AI, IoT, Cloud

The emerging generation of technology — including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and the cloud — will usher in all sorts of amazing new products, like self-driving cars, wireless pay TV and much more.

New technologies will make our lives better, safer and richer. Just think about how much our lives have changed over the last 12 years, with the iPhone and Android? We are still in the beginning of this magical ride.

That’s the good part. However, the other side of the same coin is that there’s typically a tradeoff. Losing our personal privacy may be an integral piece of this puzzle.

If that’s the case, shouldn’t we go into this new world with our eyes open? Shouldn’t we have a rule book for everyone to see? There are safety rules at the pool and the playground. Do we need more rules for all of this life-changing technology?

I am not arguing against moving forward with technology. I’m excited about what’s coming next. I visit companies and trade shows, and I’m blown away.

What I am saying is that we need to consider both sides of the coin. There are countless marketing and public relations experts to spread the word about exciting new tech.

Shouldn’t we give equal time and energy to creating rules to protect our personal privacy and other consumer interests? Of course, we should — and eventually we will. The only question is, when?

Innovate and Protect

Will we do this in advance and adapt the model as we move forward? Or should we wait a decade or more, until we finally realize what we have lost, and then try to fix the problem — like we are doing today with social media, search engines and the like?

Going forward, we should realize that all of our personal information is power. The best mode for consumers is to avoid wearing blinders. We should strive for a clear vision of everything around us. That is the best way to enjoy innovation, get wealthy from new technology, and protect our personal privacy.

There’s an old story that fits this predicament: First, they invaded the personal privacy of my neighbor and I said nothing. Then they invaded the personal privacy of my friends and relatives, and I said nothing. Then, they invaded my personal privacy, and there was no one left to hear my cries for help.

This issue matters to all of us. “It’s not personal … it’s strictly business” may not cut it this time around. The choice about how to proceed is ours. We can welcome the new world of AI, IoT, the cloud and more. However, we must move forward with our eyes wide open.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

Jeff Kagan

Jeff Kagan has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2010. His focus is on the wireless and telecom industries. He is an independent analyst, consultant and speaker. Email Jeff.

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