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Corporate Responsibility in Action

Privacy in a connected world

Created: 05 Jul 2011 • Updated: 05 Jul 2011
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Symantec is at the center of one of the most significant challenges facing the ‘on-line’ world.  How do we protect user privacy while allowing greater and greater connection?  Greater connection between people is more than just the ability to meet people on-line (although there are some rather significant businesses built on this basic premise).  Greater connection allows for a sea-change in innovation and advancement.  The ability to solve challenges on vastly greater scales is hailed by some as the greatest hope to address global challenges that face society and the world today.

But the motives to foster greater connection are not always so high-minded.  From greater access to potential customers and marketing targeted at our personal interests to criminal access of personal data, many of the platforms in the connected world are balancing the desire of society to connect with the desire of entities to exploit information.

This balance was recently debated in California around the failed California Senate Bill 242 which called for social networking companies to set stricter privacy controls as the default setting for new users.  The bill was heavily opposed by Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter and others on the grounds that setting more strict privacy protections up-front does not provide the user to select privacy settings with sufficient context and could result in even lower privacy protections if they opt out of those protections.  Of course these companies are based on business models founded on allowing personal information to flow between users and, to some extent, between marketers and potential customers.

The Bill also would have allowed parents to restrict personal information for their children registered on sites as 18 or younger – a move argued as a restriction of free speech by the opposing parties.

While the details of SB242 have been tabled for now, the fundamental questions remain: What are the best means to protect personal information while allowing connection?  How much power is to be afforded to the user to protect their own information through both selection opportunities as well as information to allow users to make informed decisions?  What is the balance between protectiveness and access for users?  For children?

There is clearly no easy ‘right or wrong’ answer to these questions except to empower informed choice.  Here is the role for Symantec in the debate: people in a connected world should be able to understand the implications of their decisions when releasing personal information.  And when they decide not to release that information, it should be protected and safe.  That is ‘Confidence in a Connected World’.

 

Todd Cort is the CEO of Two Tomorrows, an international corporate sustainability agency.