And why, exactly, are most of us okay with this?
For starters, the risk-to-reward ratio is extremely high. Either consciously or subconsciously, all of us understand that trusting one company with so much data carries enormous personal and professional risk. But what we get out of it is so great, at such low cost, that it’s absolutely worth it.
The third reason is that Google actually gives consumers a lot of control over what is shared. Google Maps, for example, can be used by anyone anonymously, but it’s much more useful when we’re logged in. The important thing is that we have a choice between two attractive options.
Now that we’ve looked at an ideal scenario, let’s consider three nightmare scenarios that we can learn from.
#1 – The Company That Lets Employees Snoop Your Data
Evernote, one of the most beloved Silicon Valley startups of the 2010s, was and still is a good product that helps unclutter email inboxes. A tech sensation, Evernote made it easy to take screenshots and save articles, links and ideas, categorize them, and keep them for later use or share them with friends or co-workers.
The lesson? Do everything you can to prevent employees from gaining access to sensitive consumer data. Learn what you can with aggregate anonymous data, not individual user data.
#2 – The Company That Failed to Communicate Clearly
You may be thinking, in comparison to the kind of data access that Google requires, was Spotify really asking for much? The answer, obviously, is no. But most companies will never be able offer consumers the massive level of value-to-risk ratio that the Google suite of products do. The first lesson here is that the value you offer consumers must offset the risk to privacy. The second lesson is that when it comes to communicating with customers about privacy, absolute clarity is of the essence.
#3 – The Company That Withdrew User Privacy Controls
In 2017, media company Plex stunned its devoted user base with a policy change that included this statement: “In order to understand the usage across the Plex ecosystem and how we need to improve, Plex will continue to collect usage statistics, such as device type, duration, bit rate, media format, resolution, and media type (music, photos, videos, etc.). We will no longer allow the option to opt out of this statistics collection.”
The outcry from users fearing that their personal viewing data would be sold to third parties was expletive-laden and fierce. The backlash was amplified with reporting by tech news outlets such as TechCrunch. The company quickly retreated. In a statement from its CEO, Plex reversed course, saying that it would now “generalize” playback statistics in an effort to make such data anonymous. In addition, it rolled out a new privacy tab, in which it would, in fact, opt out of playback data, which was categorized by product activities.
While Plex’s crisis management was decisive and admirable, the lesson here is obvious; don’t pull back on user controls, ever. It’s almost impossible to sell “loss of control” as a benefit. Thanks to the company’s strong response, Plex went on to have a record year, adding 100 employees, entering the virtual reality space and achieving record growth.