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Marissa Mayer’s Online Privacy Pillars: Transparency, Choice and Control

Nitin Sumangali |

When asked how consumers should feel about the control large companies like Yahoo! Inc., Google Inc., Apple Inc., Amazon.com and Facebook Inc. exercise over the Internet, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer says, “I think privacy will always be something that users should consider, but I also think that privacy is always a tradeoff, because when you give up some of your personal information, you get some functionality in return.”

This statement, made to Bloomberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, is a pretty crisp formulation of how information works to power the free services consumers use online. It’s also much clearer than what is typically said on this hot topic.

The exchange of personal information online is just that—an exchange. Consumers trade some information about their habits and preferences for advertising products that underwrite free online services like e-mail or social networking. Understanding these fundamentals of the online economy is critical if consumers, regulators, and Internet companies are to come to a common understanding of how best to protect personal information online and make the exchange in an informed context.

Mayer goes on to say that, in her mind, “the core principles of privacy online are transparency, choice, and control.” This matches the view of Global Insights: only if consumers know about who is using their data, and how it is used, will they feel comfortable entering into these types of online relationships.

Additionally, it is in everyone’s long-term interest that these relationships are built on a mutually beneficial foundation of honesty and clearly articulated standards. Mayer notes that she believes “industry standards will arise in terms of providing users with almost an account statement”—something like a dashboard that shows users what information is stored on a site and how it is used.

Mayer’s view is that data should be portable, with standardized formats across the web, lowering barriers to switching; and that people’s data belongs to them—they have only allowed Internet companies to access it to get better service; knowing that can give users confidence. It looks like Marissa Mayer is espousing the values of a new information sharing economy. We have to wait to see if she is proven right.

Topics: Big Data, Payments Strategy

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