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Privacy Matters.

Over the next few years privacy will grow increasingly more important than it is already.

Matters around privacy will become central to every society, business and country and the way these different establishments handle privacy will drive everything from brand value, market capitalization, economic output, and the happiness of citizens.

Why Privacy is important.

In 2014 at a TED Global Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the journalist Glenn Greenwald gave one of the finest talks on why privacy is important.

It is a must watch.

Privacy is important because we are not who we are when somebody is watching…

When someone negatively impacts our privacy, they might prevent us from being ourselves.

In a quest to identify and put us in a box they may impact the very identity they are trying to understand.

Privacy and Life Operating System (LoS).

Privacy has been an issue for a long time. It started to become more central to everyday life in the First Connected Age which began in 1993 with the launch of the World Wide Web and the rise of Search Engine Marketing and E-Commerce.

But it was really in 2007 with the beginning of the Second Connected Age where everybody was connected all the time (mobile) and everybody was connected to everybody (social) that the volume, speed and granularity of data exploded exponentially. The primary monetization engine of the First and Second Connected age was advertising and the ability to leverage data for marketing purposes made the underlying data structure an Advertising Operating System (AoS).

But as the 2016 elections in the US, Brexit and much more have shown the You-Tube’s, Facebook’s and Twitters of the world had unleashed a targeting and content delivery system so powerful that they were used to not just sell soap but determine elections, drive enraged crowds, and impact society.

What began as an Advertising Operating System to sell product is really a Society Operating System (SoS)and brings with it powerful positive and negative forces that impact society. Data collected to sell goods and services drives politics, promotes magical thinking, and can kill people through the promotion of bad science.

And we have not seen anything yet as we enter the Third Connected Age.

In the Third Connected Age the centrality of data will grow more important as a) data connects to data via machine learning and even more powerful algorithms, b) data drives an Internet of Things driven by 5G, c) we connect with devices and data in new ways from voice to augmented reality and d) everything is driven by cloud-based quantum computing.

As data, connections and algorithms permeate our financial and health records, connect our automobiles and homes to navigation systems and electricity grids, and mark our place and identity in the matrix of life we will be embedded in a Life Operating System (LoS).

Privacy as business strategy.

There are many reasons that Apple may be emphasizing privacy to sell its products and ecosystems. On one hand it helps them curb the advertising business of Android Operating System creator Google (though they also accept billions from Google to make its search engine the default engine on Apple products), or it could be a personal animosity between Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg, or a recognition that its highly desired and expensive products are bought by people who do not need an advertising subsidy to afford the products and services.

Apple also recognizes that a focus on privacy earns them the trust necessary to continue to integrate their products and services into a wider spectrum of our lives. MacOS and iOS will continue to blend and merge into one flavor of Life Operating System as Apple technology continues to embed into larger parts of their customers lives. The Apple Watch is a foray into health. Apple Pay and Apple Card into finance. The HomePod and Apple TV will integrate along with the iPhone and other devices into our homes.  Apple AirPods are in our ears and soon Apple Augmented Reality devices will be over our eyes. All this before the much rumored and anticipate iCar!

Apple faces its own privacy challenge due to its dependence on China for most of its manufacturing and a significant portion of its sales. They cannot be as stringent about about the privacy of Chinese citizens if they wish to remain on the right side of the government of that country.

So, Apple will continue to a) increasingly focus on services and not just hardware, b) move manufacturing into other countries (India among others), c) create new products that are not manufactured in China and d) overcompensate on privacy outside of China to offset the challenges there.

Amazon who’s next trillion will be driven in part by health care has built the third largest advertising business after Google and Facebook with what appears to be a far more consumer/customer driven approach to privacy recognizing that its next frontiers require trust.

Google has temporarily dialed back some of its decisions to make its browser and ad operating system more privacy friendly, but they will continue in this direction.

While we are living in a platform age, every business and not just the major platforms will grapple between privacy and their need to identify and build relationships with their customers.

Because privacy is at its heart about trust.

And brands, leaders, and companies cannot thrive in the medium to long run without trust.

Trust is the currency that has most receded in current times as measured by the Edelman Trust Barometer.

As we all begin to be enveloped in a matrix of personalized devices and experiences it will be clear that privacy will be key, and every major company and media organization will need to think and plan deeply on privacy.

Privacy is more than data.

A company’s approach to privacy will mark its reputation, its Brands, and its management.

Privacy declarations will be even more comprehensive than today’s documents that inundate us on how and when our data will be shared and used.

Because privacy will be far more than a data policy.

We will see Privacy become a key part of a company’s ESG (Environment Social Governance) reports and be knitted into Values and Mission statements. The culture of places will be impacted by how they deal with not just the privacy of their customers but also their employees.

The private, the personal, data and true understanding.

David Orr is a poetry critic for the New York Times who a few years ago wrote a book called “Beautiful and Pointless”. In the opening chapter titled “the personal” he seeks to show how “private” and “personal” are two very different things.

David provides a list of sentences:

Bob Smith was born on November 9, 1971.

Bob Smith’s favorite password is “nutmeg456”

Bob Smith’s Social Security number is 987-65-4320

Bob Smith has a foot fetish.

As a child, Bob Smith had an imaginary friend named Mr. Pigwort.

Whenever Bob Smith hears a high wind, it makes him think of his wife, who died ten years earlier, and he hears her voice faintly calling, as if from a great distance.

He notes that the first three sentences contain deeply private information, but they don’t seem personal like the last three.

Mr. Orr then states:

The point here is that our conception of “the personal” has to do more than the data of our lives, no matter how sensitive. It has to do with how we see ourselves, how we see others, how we imagine others see us, how they actually see us, and the potential embarrassment, joy, and shame that occur at the intersection of these different perspectives”

In an age obsessed with data we often believe that data can explain, and data can convince.

To a point it might, but we should never forget that meaning lies within us and combines emotion and rational thinking.

We often barely know ourselves and can be two different people in two different moods.

Because we choose with our hearts and use numbers to justify what we just did.

And we need space and privacy to be who we are.

Photographs from the CF Gallery Australia.

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Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is also a speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at

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