If you major in Communication Studies at Manchester University, one of the required classes is a course called Telecommunications. The class focuses on the technological implications of things such as cell phones, cameras and surveillance. When I took the course in the fall of 2008, it really opened up my eyes about our privacy with technology and the types of data companies collect. Keep in mind that I was young and naïve. Like most college students, it is your first time away from home and you are learning about the world. I still had so much more to learn.
I remember one of our first assignments in the course was to take pictures with our cell phone of people in public without them noticing. If my memory is correct, we had to take 10 different photos of people throughout the campus. The purpose of the assignment was to teach us that when you are in a public space, people are able to take photos or videos of you, without you realizing it. It doesn’t have to be a surveillance camera that you might find in a gas station. Furthermore, it was also supposed to show us that people are collecting information about us without our knowledge.
The deeper in the class we got, the more I realized some of our privacy was being compromised because of technology. I became aware of surveillance cameras in public places that watched my every move. I was suddenly concerned about the information credit card companies were collecting about me after every purchase. Businesses were collecting information as I browsed the web, including social websites. It seemed like anywhere I went, someone could be recording what I said or taking photographs. Truthfully, I did feel like someone was watching me and it made me very uneasy.
I believe I deactivated my Facebook account at the beginning of this course. Little did I know that Facebook already had information about me that would never get deleted. They had been tracking my information since the moment I signed up. Because I was addicted to Facebook (and still am), I eventually re-activated my account. I realized I needed it for communicating with my classmates and also to just be “in the know” about the world.
As time went on, I began feeling less like about someone watching me. I didn’t want to let it bother me. After all, what did I have to hide? I had to live my life. It really wasn’t until this past fall when I started feeling uneasy about who could be watching me.
One afternoon I wanted to share a picture of my dog to a friend on the Messenger app. As I tried to send the image, the app crashed. I simply reopened the app and tried sending it again. However, when I tried to send the photo again my photo library wasn’t showing up in the app. I thought it was odd but I closed out of the app just figuring it was another glitch and quickly checked my photo collection. To my dismay, my entire library was gone. I hadn’t done anything but try to send ONE picture. How did all of my photos on my phone suddenly disappear? After a few (long) minutes of major panic, I noticed that my pictures were slowly reappearing back on my phone and into their proper album. I sat there so baffled. What in the world had just happened? Moreover, how could this have happened? After all, I don’t use any cloud-based services.
The only explanation I can figure is that Facebook was interfering with the data on my phone. Ultimately, I had given Facebook and Messenger access to my photos on my phone. It could have been a coincidence but I can’t say for sure why it even happened. It certainly has made me more cautious. Since that incident, I have tried to not allow apps such as Facebook or Messenger to have access to my photos. I will admit, that disabling certain features can be a bit of a pain but it does make me feel better. Whether or not I actually have any real control over what information these apps have access to, I still feel like I have some say by clicking the disable button.
Businesses are collecting data about us all the time. These companies gather our information in order to learn more about us. That way they can create personalized advertisements, increasing the likelihood we will purchase from them. After all, consumers want to feel special, like they are getting custom messages just to them. But in order to get these personalized messages, businesses need to know information about their audience. This is where data collection comes into action.
Because companies are going to continue to collect data, we need to be tactful and respectful of your customer’s privacy. Perhaps had Facebook warned me that they were going to look at my photos this past fall, I wouldn’t have felt so uneasy about the situation. It is important to not make your customers feel violated. They trust you so don’t abuse that power.
Data collection matters and it is important that your business has a policy in place for your customers. Here are some best practices when collecting data about your customers.
Best Practices for Collecting Customer Data
- Build a relationship with your customer before collecting detailed and personal data
- Focus on transparency about your data collection
- Don’t overwhelm your customer with too many questions at one time, only gather basic information initially
- Allow your consumers to have a choice
- Can they opt in for whether or not their personal data is used? Also be sure to explain how their data will be used.
- Allow consumers access to their data
- If you do allow consumers access, be clear what is exchanged for data access
- Security measures for hosting consumer information
- Encryption standards to avoid cyber attacks
- Recognize children’s safety for data collection (Be aware of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, COPPA)
- Follow-through your data collection policy
- If you use a third party, clearly state so in your policy
- Don’t collect irrelevant data; your data must always have a purpose
- State what happens to their data over a span of time. Is it deleted or saved?
- Always notify current customers if your policy changes at any time
If you want to learn more about the FTC’s best practices for privacy, please visit their website.