ENTREPRENEURSHIP / MAR. 09, 2014
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The Insistent Customer Demand for Internet Privacy And Companies Who Address It

The right to privacy is a basic customer service initiative. But with the recent brouhahas associated with data-gathering tools employed by big-time companies like Google and Facebook, is this basic right violated in the internet sphere?

An example of today's powerlessness over one's private data

Facebook's decision to allow a highly violent video to remain posted online for a period of time has been debated heatedly by parties with different opinions. The video involves the violent death of private individuals and is thus deemed inappropriate for public viewing. Making the information publicly available is hurtful to the families of the victims and is viewed as irresponsible handling of supposedly private information, according to one party.

On the other hand, Facebook considers itself as a platform for sharing experiences, even when concerning controversial events such as “human rights abuses, acts of terrorism and other violent events.” Thus, the video is a form of documentation of this and Facebook made the decision not to take it down.

But where can one draw the line? How about the families involved with the individuals in the video? Assuming they are personal data, would they have wanted such information to be publicly available? To be shared at will by any of Facebook's users, who are, on a monthly basis, around 1.3 billion strong?

The video has, since October 2013, been taken down, but not without first raising critical issues on Facebook's stance regarding what to and what not to be posted for public display on the internet, especially those containing extremely violent content.

Internet privacy protection measures too late?

There are various laws implemented by the US government to protect the privacy of internet users.

States in the US have regulations for internet privacy. These policies prohibit the collection of personal data from users by internet service providers unless authorized.

Websites are now also required to have some form of privacy policy disclaimer, allowing customers the choice to decide whether or not to submit their personal information to the websites.

Bell Mobility, as an example, has this privacy program. In this program, customers' information are collected and used for relevant advertising, marketing and business research purposes, but not without the customer's permission. Only customers who wish for their usage data to be recorded and utilized are included. Those who don't feel comfortable are given the option to opt out.

Companies offering internet privacy as a customer service

Some users are intensely wary of private internet activity data collection and would prefer not to be part of this new data-gathering trend by internet companies. In response to this, some companies have made internet privacy as a service geared for such customer concerns.

  •   SpiderOak

A more private option to cloud file saving and sharing applications like DropBox and Google Drive is SpiderOak, where users' files are protected from being viewed or used by the hosting platform.

  •   Bitcoin

The electronic currency and peer-to-peer money transfer system, Bitcoin, has also burst to popularity and is quickly being accepted as a mode of payment in more industries. These companies automatically encrypt the data of the users, giving them anonymity and hence, protection from data harvesting.

  •   DuckDuckGo

One relatively new search engine company, DuckDuckGo, is using its policy of maintaining internet privacy as a unique selling point to its users. DuckDuckGo is now being considered as Google's emerging competitor. But by taking to mind the clamor of most internet users, and hence, clients, who he personally communicates with on Reddit and Hacker News, DuckDuckGo creator Gabriel Weinberg decided to use internet privacy as a main customer right for his fledgling search engine business.

From its launch in 2008, to being included in Time's 50 Best Websites of 2011, the relatively smaller competitor of Google has gone a long way. As of February, DuckDuckGo has been receiving more than 4 million search queries per day. And it's still going up to date.

With the acclaim that users have taken to these new alternatives, these companies might be doing something right when it considers internet privacy as part of its customer service package.

Conclusion

There are various issues regarding the use of personal information gathered via the Internet that can be debated endlessly. But the bottom line is that users will always have the right to their personal data. In some cases, though, private companies such as the current Internet giants still violate stricter online privacy policies being implemented by concerned institutions. It is therefore good to be aware that making other options to answer internet privacy concerns of consumers can be a viable business proposition.

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