The Naked CIO: Going public about privacy

What have we got to hide?

What have we got to hide?

The outcry about the amount of data held on individuals is entirely understandable, says the Naked CIO. Our lives would clearly be much better if more information were held.

Over the past few years we've had some feverish debate about ID cards. But then again arguments about information sharing between agencies and healthcare institutions have also raised the temperature a few notches.

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On top of that we've had the drive towards national data consolidation in the public and private sectors.

The first reaction is always outrage: people will know too much about us.

But are we criminals? Do we have something to hide? There are benefits to this sharing. After all, security is a growing concern and the ability for, say, healthcare professionals to diagnose and cure patients has to be positive, right?

Having worked in a customer service-based industry for many years, I am also acutely aware that customers expect businesses to know about them.

The buying public assume businesses know their preferences and more importantly their dislikes or bad experiences. Of course, in many cases these are based on a single relationship with a customer and a business.

My company uses professional services to clean and enhance customer data, identifying attributes such as income, propensity to purchase certain products, specific spending habits and even personal demographics.

We do this to market more effectively to customers who match the predictive characteristics of people who tend to buy our products.

This information is readily available, just as credit information is readily available to institutions that offer financial services. Perhaps privacy, as we believe it to be, is an illusion.

But I wonder what would happen if this information were not available. Think about the consequences of extending credit without proper checks.

I look at the information we obtain on our customers - people who have already engaged in some sort of transaction with us. The question is whether our ability to service them would be inhibited if we did not obtain this information, which could lead to dissatisfied customers and reduced profits.

Customers give off mixed signals about what they expect businesses to know about them. Data consolidation and better information on consumers is a good thing as long as the information is used wisely and is properly secured and protected.

Greater transparency of information would allow customers to be better served, their healthcare to be better provided and their lives and status more secure.

Why not? There is a lot of information out there and if it was used more effectively wouldn't our lives be better and easier. Why should companies, healthcare services and the authorities have to guess?

Of course, there must be limits on this. Information sharing and data consolidation must be relevant to those using it.

Healthcare information, for example, should only be available to healthcare agencies and certified providers.

In that light ID cards don't seem such a bad idea - why should they be?

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