15 (Part 1) – Balancing privacy vs convenience, targeted marketing, safety

Updated: May 30

There are tradeoffs between privacy and other potential goals, such as privacy vs convenience, privacy vs commercial interests (e.g., targeted marketing), and privacy vs safety. Individuals and democratic societies need to weigh the tradeoffs and strike a delicate balance.


1. Privacy vs. convenience

Privacy vs convenience

There have been many illustrations in this blog about how convenience comes at the expense of our privacy rights. Examples:

  • Google Search is certainly powerful and robust compared to a search tool that gives you the utmost in search engine privacy, so that switching may result in less convenience for you.

  • If you change email providers for a more privacy-focused email service, the transition is certainly inconvenient, particularly if the target email service is not as feature rich.

  • Using a GPS-based map tool to navigate offers convenience, but some people are disturbed to discover the extensiveness of the travel history that some such tools keep by default and might opt to stop location tracking via GPS.

2. Privacy vs. targeted marketing

Google, Facebook, and many online marketers are able to serve you targeted ads by installing web tracking cookies on your devices and/or by collecting your demographic data, areas of interest, and/or browsing and search history. Some argue that they prefer targeted ads matching their areas of interest to random ads or ads that display based only on current activity. However, many users, including this writer, find such tracking and targeting extremely invasive, are concerned that massive data about them is stored on the servers of large corporations, and that this private data could be hacked, leaked, or sold. You need to decide whether you prefer to minimize such data collection and targeted marketing, and if so, follow our past recommendations to block web trackers, delete tracking cookies, install ad blocker extension, reduce personal data collected by switching browsers and switching to a search tool that optimizes for search engine privacy, use VPN online, use secure email, consider an encrypted cloud storage account, and other measures.

3. Privacy vs. safety

We all recognize the tradeoff between privacy and security/safety in our daily lives. For example,

  • We, for the most part, put up with TSA screening in airports that intrudes on our privacy in exchange for increased flight security.

  • Representative governments accept allowing law enforcement to acquire location data under proper court approval with probable cause to help capture criminals.

  • We provide personal information as responses to “challenge questions” (such as high school name or birth city), which are private data, to online sites that wish to strengthen authentication, because they could help prevent unauthorized access and identity theft.

Democratic societies need to balance and monitor privacy vs public safety goals to ensure that safety-enhancing measures are not abused.


4. Privacy vs. public health

Public safety, discussed above, includes public health, but particularly in today’s coronavirus pandemic environment, it is worth separating out public health as a category on its own.

That is the subject of our next blog post, Balancing coronavirus privacy vs. public health.

Take Away

Both as individuals and as democratic societies, we need to balance the tradeoffs between privacy vs convenience, privacy vs commercial interests (such as targeted marketing), and privacy vs safety.

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