- Where Insurance & Technology Meet

Is Privacy Dead, or Does It Just Smell Funny?

In the waning year of the 20th century, a technology leader famously said that privacy was an artifact that should be left in the past.  The response was strident.  Fast forward a decade and there are new data that indicate that privacy is not so much a right as a commodity to trade.  Is this a real change in attitude and, if so,  was our berated leader just a little ahead of his time?

In January 1999, Scott McNealy, then CEO of Sun Microsystems (now part of the Oracle family), told a group of reporters and analysts that consumer privacy was a “red herring”.  McNealy continued, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

Reaction  was swift and harsh from colleagues, regulators and consumers.  Linda Walsh, a consumer concerned about electronic privacy, said “He may have no privacy because of his status as CEO. He shouldn’t assume his reality is everyone else’s.”

A recent survey commissioned by SAS suggests that attitudes towards privacy may not be as open as McNealy’s, but consumers may be willing to trade personal information for a better marketing experience.  (A summary of the report and a link to the full report can be found on

According to Lori Bieda, Executive Lead for Customer Intelligence, SAS Americas, “Canadians expect organizations to be relevant in how they talk to them. It’s a give and get. If I provide you with some key personal information, use what I give you to send me offers which align to my interests, and serve me in a way that makes sense.”

Consumers are selective about the information they will provide.  Over half of the survey respondents were willing to provide their email, age, and postal code.  And over 40% were willing to also include educational level and marital status.  The most treasured piece of information was cell phone number, with only 6% of respondents willing to give this up.

The trade relationship with consumers is dynamic and conditional.  If the company receiving the information does not respect the value of the relationship, and provides a negative marketing experience, it risks the consumer terminating the business relationship entirely.

So, What do you think?  Is this a trend?  Are we stepping willingly into a world of compromised privacy in exchange for better service?  And, from a business standpoint, are you willing to accept more information from consumers in exchange for a commitment to a better marketing experience?

Leaves us your thoughts below.  We plan to continue this discussion in future posts.