Earlier this year, Amazon unveiled a service called Amazon Key, in which delivery people are given a key to enter customers’ apartments without the customer being at home. More recently, the service expanded to car delivery. Is this a sign that we’ve entered a post-privacy era, or has the definition of privacy merely changed?
To shed light on how privacy is evolving, I asked several technology and privacy leaders their opinions. Here’s what they had to say:
“We’re currently in the midst of a massive shift in the way that we interact with technology. With the end goal in mind being that technology will help get us from point A to Z in all facets of our lives, we are living in a time where humans still need to “fill in the gaps” where technology hasn’t yet been fully integrated. The Amazon Key is a great example of this. It is not the end goal of Amazon to offer a service allowing delivery people into their homes. Rather, Amazon is merely using the human delivery drivers as the beta version of what they have in mind for the future — end-to-end robotic delivery. By offering Amazon Key early, Amazon kills two birds with one stone. First, they’re able to offer a better delivery service. They don’t have to spend time sending out drivers to recipients who weren’t home and they don’t have to pay to replace stolen/misplaced packages. Second, they’re preparing people for the future, where this type of service will be normalized and taken over through means of a robot and/or drone, rather than human. We’ve entered an era where the definition of privacy has changed and will continue to change as technology catches up.”
“I wouldn’t characterize it that way. I think it’s more fair to look at it in terms of value exchange. What kind of privacy are consumers willing to give up, and what are they asking for in return in order to give up their privacy? Consumers have always been willing to give up their privacy, as long as they feel like they are getting something out of the exchange. In the case of Amazon Key, with the rise of “porch pirates” (people stealing boxes off of people’s front porches), some consumers are willing to give up the overall security of their home in order to continue the convenience of having products delivered to their house. If porch piracy was a non-issue, then I don’t think people would be as interested in letting delivery people open their front doors.”
Vice President of Retail Innovation, Aptos
“Privacy is a relative term that changes across generations. Baby boomers, for example, still want to protect their privacy and worry (a lot) about digital security, whereas Generation X’ers worry less and are happy to trade off what they perceive as small violations of privacy for the rewards they receive for sharing their locations and buying preferences. Generation Z will probably be even less concerned about their digital privacy than Gen X’ers!
But there are storm clouds gathering. When the cost of privacy and security breaches exceeds the benefits of location and buying preferences, things will change. Breaches that cost individuals time and money will change behavior and changing behavior will impact digital business models and processes. The management and protection of personal and transactional data will thus become increasingly important in the age of digital warfare, wherever and however it occurs.
Amazon Key is only a hack away from disaster — regardless of how many controls are embedded in the process. Generations — again — will have strong feelings about who gets to enter their homes. The older the consumer, the less likely they are to allow anyone to enter their home when no one is there. Younger consumers — especially those who have experienced porch burglaries — will be early adopters — until something bad happens. Then all bets are off.”
Stephen J. Andriole, PhD, is the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business Technology at Villanova University’s School of Business
“Privacy may not be dead, but it is on life support. Certainly, cloud technologies and social media have promoted more immediacy and transparency. There are instances when willing participants (such as the Amazon Key customer) may opt-in to situations when their privacy is at risk. But the battle over privacy is about the rights of consumers being violated (such as in the controversy surrounding Cambridge Analytica, The Trump Campaign and Facebook) so the definition of privacy may have shifted in that an expectation of privacy has given way to an expectation that it may be violated by unscrupulous companies and third parties. While Boomers expect privacy, Millennials view it as a thing of the past.”
President, Optimize Inc.
“I would say the definition has changed somewhat. We live in a 24/7 connected surveillance state of our own making, where our locations and actions are being monitored almost constantly. However, most of that information can be limited or controlled in some way—it isn’t just freely available to the public. It is up to us as individual consumers and citizens to determine which organizations and companies we’re comfortable sharing information with, and to what extent. Some people might consider Amazon Key a violation of their privacy, and they’re welcome to not participate. Others will consider Amazon Key to be a significant benefit worth trading some privacy for with a company they trust.”
“Prior to Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, I would have immediately said that we’ve entered a post-privacy era; handing over personal data and giving up more and more of our privacy is, at the moment, just part of the buy-in for participating in society. But there is significant pushback against the way data is being used, far more than I previously anticipated; and while nobody is dropping Facebook en masse, the primary emotion I’m seeing is one of betrayal. At the very least, it’s clear that people feel what happened here was wrong. So we’re getting the sense not that people think privacy is passé, but that they trusted Facebook to reasonably safeguard it, or at least act responsibly with it.
Amazon Key is a very interesting development on this front, and it remains to be seen how much people will be willing to utilize it. There’s quite a lot to be said for having the ability to remotely monitor activity around your door, but in the wake of recent critical developments on the privacy front, I think we can expect that this service won’t be embraced as enthusiastically as it might otherwise have been. Data can often seem abstract, but I think a lot more people are really beginning to realize why it, and thereby privacy more generally, is so valuable and worth the effort of securing.
So, to that extent, I think the definition of privacy has changed much more than that it’s been abandoned; privacy is still something we value and safeguard even as we open up more of our lives to others. I think ultimately it’s about transparency and each individual’s control over their own information that we’re trying to prioritize, not to eliminate tools and technology that utilize personal data entirely. It’s a huge development that I suspect could easily change the entire trajectory of how we use and share data (for the better).”
President, Ericho Communications