Where did my privacy go?

There have been many blogs and messages about privacy online and offline in the last couple of years. True, that might be because it is simply a big issue with identity theft lurking around. But, I will not bother you with a posting about how to conserve your privacy, shred all your documents that show some privacy related information and monitor your credit reports and lock them down. No, I rather would take a look at the bigger problem; companies who try to do anything to get their hands on that information, not even for malicious purposes.

Because, there is a massive problem here that is hooked up with one of the fundaments of the concept of Internet; it provides access to virtually an unlimited amount of users that  don’t share the physical problems of location. As you know, sending an email to China might sometimes take a lot less time than to your neighbor 20 feet away. Because, it is the perfect distribution channel; utilizing digial services that just cost a fraction of the time and money than it has costed in the past, and your area of reach increased from maybe 1 million people to 1 billion people.

Although this might sound amazing, as most people who work some way or another on the internet know, there is suddenly a massive amount of competitors in your area. If you would start up a farmers market right now, in Plainsville Tenessee with a population of 30 people, chances are you might attract 20 people if you would be the only framers market right there. Now, picture it that in Plainsville Tenessee there would be 5,000 farmers markets fighting over those 20 people. Or, it is not only getting new people in your store (that is a whole marketing thing I will go into another time) but how to keep people engaged to your service online.

It used to be quite simple, if you had someones email address you could contact him or her when you wanted to. But since everyone is fighting over users and visitors, everyone wants to contact as many people as possible. Hence the whole privacy issue. Suddenly, email addresses provided a way to get to new users, users you had never heard of before. And because competitor X was trying to contact 2 million new people, you need to do that too. Email addresses became big business. And don’t think only shady businesses sold, or still sell, email lists, a lot of your trusted brands still do.

A bit smart person has for that issue a bogus email address. A catchall for all the services he/she needs to sign up for and check the emails, but doesn’t want to see in their own email box. To be honest, I have about 20. Some must have gathered about thousands of spam mails by now because I never check them. But that is also the next problem, of an average email list, only 12% of all emails in such a list are potentially real. And out of them, you have to sort out expired emails, forgotten emails etc. So, in order to get to more email addresses, handy hackers invented a long time ago different kinds of virusses and worms that would simply try different email addresses on the fly, or check your address book and send itself out to everyone in there because, well, email addresses in your address book should be correct, not?

In other words, it is worth scanning and filtering emails. But also, just like with normal junk mail, how much are you really going to read through it? Do you want to read 40 mails promoting stuff after you come home from work and while you want to spend some time with friends or family?

So this is the real bottleneck. Companies want to contact you, tell you that you have to come to them, buy with them or use their services. And they blindly send it out to you. From a commercial point of view, it is understandable, they need to make money and stay in business, and for that they need your time, money and attention.

But, ask yourself also something else… when was the last time you recieved an email from Amazon, promoting products or asking you to shop there while you have an account there? When did Microsoft send you it’s last email asking you to buy Windows 7 that you did not sign up for? And not only those big ones, there are gazillions of smaller companies faring fairly well without the need to push information to you. They keyword might be simpler then you might think; deliver quality in whatever you do.

If you run a site providing a service for buying a house, do exactly that and do it good. Don’t expect people to return to your service once they bought a home, only if you deliver a valuable (in perception of the user) aftercare. If you are a store, make the shopping experience a nice and pleasant one, don’t overdo it; you are still ‘just a store’. But build a name for yourself to be the good one out there. Because, there are indeed thousands and thousands of competitors in that playing field. Don’t shout out to all the potential users, deliver quality to a close set of friends and early adapters to your service. Don’t set up your business plan to gather up 500,000 users in the first year, but keep it modest and realistic. Aim for the break-even point and  go for it. Word of mouth will happen, and if you deliver that quality and can maintain that, you do not need any email address in your marketing plan.  Don’t bother people with information they don’t care about or that might turn them away from you.

It is easily said, but wrapping this way too long a story together; if we as online service/products providers would deliver better quality, we actually might start to get rid of this privacy issue, or at least be on the right track.



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