OPINION: Consumers Should Be More Thankful For Privacy Violations

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Frank O'Brien Contributor
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Google CEO Sundar Pichai was grilled on Capitol Hill this month. The main focus was concern over user data and privacy. It has sparked much debate to be sure, but there is one angle that hasn’t really been explored: Could companies sharing your private data actually be positive for consumers?

They say history repeats itself and challenges present opportunities. Personally I’m a fan of those two phrases and a huge fan of analogies. So let’s work this question out: Where are we with data? Is it even still called “big data”? And how the heck can a breach or violation of privacy be a good thing?

Look at it this way: the first automobile came out in 1885, more than 20 years before the Ford Model T came out in 1908. (Side observation: Ford had to make it through three-quarters of the alphabet before getting things right!) Of further note, the Model T came out six years before the first traffic light was installed in 1914.

Why is this relevant? It is just one example of how industries take time to develop as does the regulation around them.

To further illustrate this point, look at the automobile accident and fatality rate from 1900-2000. A steep curve up in miles driven, a steep curve down accidents and fatalities. With every accident there was an opportunity to learn and improve the industry as a whole.

Data — and specifically data usage — is still in its infancy, if not struggling to get out of its womb. Recent topics of discussion like Facebook and Google testifying on Capitol Hill or the European Union’s enactment of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are most quickly and easily responded to with “data is a bad thing” or “I’m turning off my phone.” But, if data is used for relevancy or to bring value to a person’s life and the regulations being put in place protect individual concerns, then why would data usage be a bad thing?

Sure, those companies may blow a stop sign in these early days but credit needs to be given to them for getting behind the wheel. Over time products will improve, proper regulations will fall into place, and we’ll all be better off because data, when used in the right way, can improve our lives.

Imagine a world where you walk down the street and are beaten over the head with advertising for a company you will never buy from. Or a world where you buy something online and then see an ad for the item you bought two weeks after you bought it. Even worse, what if you see an ad that updates with discount codes showing that you could have gotten a better deal? This is the world we live in now.

Now, imagine a world with efficient advertising showing only what you’re interested in and care about around every corner. That luxury item you have been waiting to buy? The price just dropped, go get it — or it will be waiting at your door. The stock you just invested in? The share price just went up because their ad spend was more efficient since they didn’t wastefully spend their media on dead impressions or clicks.

I am not saying that data breaches or violation of privacy should be taken lightly. However, thought needs to be given to where we are, where we are going, and what it is going to take to get there. Regulations like GDPR and other initiatives are welcome first steps to bringing law and order to a new Wild West.

If we don’t embrace the opportunities that challenges create, we have to consider what would have happened if challenges weren’t embraced in earlier days. For starters, I wouldn’t be clothed writing this from a coffee shop as snow falls outside a Manhattan window. Instead, I might be naked in a cave trying to make sense of a stick.

Frank O’Brien (@TheFrankoBrien) is the CEO of Five Tier, a data marketing company. He’s been featured in AMC’s The Pitch.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.