Thursday, June 30, 2011

Interactivity and Privacy

Window shopping at Eaton's department store. (...Image via Wikipedia
I'm often surprised by people's reaction to privacy issues online. It's as if they've forgotten that the Internet is an interactive medium. As we browse the web, it is not analogous to window shopping, watching the tube, or flipping through a magazine in a dentist's office. Every website visit is a visit onto someone else's property.

The interactive nature of this medium means that there's a two-way channel of communication between the user and the website they're visiting. I see them; they see me.

When I enter a brick and mortar store, I expect that my every move is video-taped and that the purchases I make are tracked by my credit card company and the store. When I enter the store - as opposed to just window shopping - the expectation and reality change with regard to privacy and propriety. I've moved from a one-way relationship to an interactive relationship once I've entered the store.

I view the Internet in a similar fashion. I'm not surprised that Amazon tracks the products I browse or that an online publisher knows which articles I have read...and then some.

The goal is to make it a better experience - an interactive experience - a more personal experience. Certainly the line can be crossed and privacy violated. But I'm optimistic that the tracking that's currently going on is, by and far, done in good will for the betterment of the medium.

Interactivity changes privacy expectations online, as it generally does offline.
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