Privacy: Now Impossible? Thus Irrelevant?

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Marsha Lindsay

Would hula hoop if put in an agency talent show.

Dateline: February 2010. International think tank in Zurich. Debate: What is the future of marketing given the impact of data that comes from social networks as people share more and more about themselves with friends, strangers and companies? Hmmm: The founder of Facebook has just said that in the age of the Internet, privacy is “no longer a social norm.” People may not want to hear that, but given the overwhelming presence of data, easily and often inadvertently produced in our digital age, it seems new generations can’t help but evolve and accept this.

After all, each of us is producing large amounts of data that can be gathered and read in large volumes, both consciously and unintentionally. The data comes from our technologically-enabled conversations and their content (an estimated over 133 million blogs, over 30,000 tweets per minute, gazillions of posted photos and videos), behaviors traced by technologically enhanced appliances, power grids, stores, cars, roadways and video surveillance. And of course, there are the crumbs we leave from search, interactive and e-commerce behaviors. Data from these behaviors will rise geometrically as computing goes increasingly mobile and search, news, entertainment and shopping will be conveniently located in one’s pocket and, with geo-locaters, data on the location of your pocket will always be known.

Where does it all end? Will people revolt? Or will we all come to proactively share data about ourselves in an effort to manage our own identities? No one knows exactly. But a lot of people want to predict where it’s going so they can market opportunistically, market efficiently and market ethically. Can they market at all in a world where consumer-to-consumer marketing is real, real-time and more trusted than marketing from marketers; where consumers increasingly and willingly share data on their own behaviors with friends, family and even strangers? Hmmm. Will the social norm be the expectation that the lives and behaviors of each of us will be an open book?

Where do you think society is headed in a world rich with easily accessible data? And what’s a marketer to do? Share your thoughts with us below.