Friday, February 20, 2015

Cross-device privacy

One of the things I like about my smartphone is that I feel in control of the connection between it and my other digital manifestations. For instance, if I want to do a google search for some potentially sensitive topic, I would never do it on my work computer, and I may feel discouraged from doing it on my personal computer, but on my phone - well, who else ever sees my phone? In this way, my smartphone is a safer environment, almost like a confidant. But if cross-device tracking becomes a reality (and it appears that this is on the way), where will users go to retain some of that good old pseudo-anonymity that made the Internet so popular in the first place. They used to say that on the web, no one knows you're a dog, but now if Google sees your searches for Purina and chew toys, they just might figure it out.

Ultimately, for most smartphone users (and most consumers in general), ads are in general a nuisance to put up with, the price to pay for the benefits of being on-line, but they are not the purpose of being on-line. And so to have a situation in which one of the main benefits of being on-line (privacy and being able to separately manage multiple digital identities) becomes subservient to better ads would be to most consumers a rather clear reversal of priorities. Users feel a personal connection with their smartphones right now, and if nothing else that is a valuable marketing asset. So how to gain the benefits of cross-device information sharing without ruining that warm and fuzzy feeling?

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