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The Value of Privacy and the Naked Emperor

By Rickard Lawson Mar 11, 2021

Tags privacy

Reading 4 min

Most people don’t go to the toilet with the door open or feel comfortable undressing completely in front of strangers. Why should privacy be less important online?

The value we set on privacy varies.

We all value the right to have a private, personal space and something that is not shared or seen by others. We trust our doctors and medical staff with our lives, but we feel uncomfortable sharing medical history and issues with others in the waiting room. It’s why cubicles have walls and rooms have doors. 

The value we set on our privacy is largely influenced by culture and opportunity, but it is very rarely "zero".

Online, this value has been deemed almost insignificant by forces outside our control. You (and I) do not have any digital privacy. There is little going on in your life that at least one major corporation doesn’t know about.

Your information, your habits, patterns and actions are the building blocks of your identity, therefore you should want to protect your privacy in all ways possible. No corporation should have the insights or access to what you deem private in the name of profit.

Why privacy matters

We object to the human rights abuse of citizens when it’s perpetrated by a government, yet we silently accept it when it's done by corporations.  We willfully let our phones track our location, we let our apps track our behavior and we give the websites we visit permission to sell data about us etc. It’s a tradeoff between privacy and convenience.

As technology has evolved over the years, this tradeoff has become so routine that the act of handing over your information is as natural as the flick of a thumb. 

Complete eradication of digital privacy and monitoring of people at scale is the norm.

The withdrawal and limitation of privacy is globally used as a tool of punishment and imprisonment. It is the first step in the process of dehumanization.

The asymmetric Quid Pro Quo

Paradoxically, almost every website you visit launches a message that opens with the words «We value you privacy». This statement is generally followed by an «OK - I agree» prompt that triggers the exact opposite reality.

The honest wording would be: «We see the value of your privacy, and we want to exploit it. By clicking "OK"  You get something (content, free wifi, shop access whatever) and in return, you pay us with information about you!” 

So what IS the value of online privacy? What is a fair amount for a company to pay you, in real money, for the rights to your information?

1 dollar per month? 1.000$? Hard to say, but I’m pretty sure you can agree with the following statement: My data is worth more than I’m getting paid for it today!

Measuring data and giving it value

You’ve probably heard the expression “if it’s free - you are the product being sold” but this is inaccurate. If you are getting something for “free” (i.e. paying for it with your information) you are not the end product - you are the raw material for the product being sold.

“Human experience [translated into data] is free raw material for commercial practices of extraction, prediction, and sales” - Shoshana Zuboff

In other words, the value of your data to those that harvest it is very low - it is the refinement and subsequent promise of actionable insight that holds the value. Turning your privacy into a future profit centre is the key. 

Companies who latch onto this idea place their bets on their ability to influence your actions. Had they not believed that they could turn the “ok, I accept” button into something of value to them, it would be pointless.

And here’s the catch: it mostly is.


The Emperor has no clothes

Happy Kids: The Emperor´s new clothes

In H.C. Andersen's fairy tale,  the Emperor's court was so set on pleasing their leader that no one dared tell the emperor that the robes he was buying of the “lightest and finest silks” was in fact nothing but air. Consequently they all cheered as the emperor showed the garments that had been sold to him by con-men, whilst he strutted about wearing, well - nothing.

After a decade of promises about “the value of data” and it’s time to call BS: The Emperor is naked!

The con-men of the digital advertising complex have peddled a lie, and the buyers have largely bought thin-air.

There exists no silver-bullet in messaging or a conclusive attribution model about what works. 
There is however substantial evidence that point to the negative side-effects of “targeted ads”. Consumer distaste against intrusive targeting, the correlation between adblocking and programmatic spending and the inefficiency of the ads. 


Let’s face it - we would all know the secret ingredient of successful advertising by now if such a thing existed. There is no formula that supports the idea that the digital marketing world is reliant on the sacrifice of personal data to function. There’s nothing to suggest that the scales of inequality rightly tilt in the favor of selling more shoes when weighed against the right to be forgotten. 


The sad moral of the story is that sycophants so strongly want to believe that there is something more than air hanging off the emperor. The shared cost of sustaining this illusion lives on even as legislators across the world try to enforce a minimum of protection. 

In the fairy tale it takes the naive eyes of a child to call the bluff and the result is ridicule of the Emperor and his court. If you’ve read this far, remember this:

  • Don’t let your marketing be the object of future ridicule or legislation. 
  • Ensure you don’t enable the ongoing exploitation of privacy in your marketing. 
  • Dare to question the proposed accuracy and transactional value of targeting based on personal information. 
  • Embrace the new future through new, modern ways of creating engagement.

Strossle has long been an advocate for digital privacy in a landscape of peddlers of “the finest silks”. Help us support local media and your consumers right to online privacy by requesting that your messaging contains the words: “We value your right to online privacy” - and actually mean it.

Feel free to contact us to learn more:

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