The privacy Issue

- 210121

So last week, in preparing the Weekly Digest, I got talking to one of my team members about online privacy: why it mattered to me and what were the steps I’d taken to create more security or privacy for myself online.

The prompt for our exchange was the flurry of news following the change of privacy policy from WhatsApp owner Facebook and its implications for users.


Parent company Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced back in 2019 that they would be working to merge their three messaging platforms - Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp. At the time, it seemed to me like an obvious move to bolster revenue: facilitating marketers to service the 2.6 billion users from the three apps (at the time of the announcement).

Nonetheless, this and other updates rolled out on Instagram, shows that Facebook has no intention to keep the platforms truly autonomous. This is a fact which is seen as a strong reversal from the intentions at the time of acquisition of the two apps.

While all three platforms were ordered to incorporate end-to-end encryption, at the time, Facebook stated it was aiming to “build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want ‘messaging’ to be fast, simple, reliable and private.” It added: “We’re working on making more of our messaging products end-to-end encrypted and considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks.”

However, according to Mike Isaac in the New York Times 'The integration plan raises privacy questions because of how users’ data may be shared between services. WhatsApp currently requires only a phone number when new users sign up. By contrast, Facebook and Facebook Messenger ask users to provide their true identities. Matching Facebook and Instagram users to their WhatsApp handles could give pause to those who prefer to keep their use of each app separate.'

Recently, I signed up for a short online course and discovered after having paid for it the course participants would be prompted into interacting via a private Facebook group. I recoiled and messaged the course administrator to let them know that I wouldn’t be participating on the platform. They apologised and assured me of the group’s privacy, to which I responded: “Sure, but I don't trust Facebook."


Why am I so distrusting of Facebook’s policy around ad-tracking online? I already let Google track me, most of the time, so what’s the difference?

I sat there with my giant home-made latte and pondered this question. Somehow, in the past few years, Facebook had become a business that was not my friend. It doesn’t ‘feel’ like it’s on my side.

This got me asking: what makes users, or customers, move away from businesses?

It’s not just what was said about the company, it was what they did or didn’t do and indeed, how that made me feel.

I hope you are all familiar with Simon Sinek’s original Ted Talk, where he presents this important statement: “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

So I am not ‘buying’ Facebook and as many others, I am getting weary of Instagram, largely because of how these platforms make me feel.

This reminded me of Brené Brown'sNetflix 'Call to Courage' talk, where she explains what builds trust and what erodes it. Helpfully, she’s made this into a handy PDF. Brown is a social scientist, so these findings are heavily backed by data. Just starting with the first one, I can see in big bold letters why I am shying away from the social media giant, though of course, the rest including the 'Vault' and 'Integrity' seem to be two major areas of trust erosion for me.


BOUNDARIES | You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.

RELIABILITY | You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t over-promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.

ACCOUNTABILITY | You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

VAULT | You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.

INTEGRITY | You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.

NON-JUDGEMENT | I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.

The smaller we are, the easier it is to deliver against our purpose, our mission, and remain aligned with our values. By contrast, the larger companies become, the harder it is to continue to do the harder work of being accountable, doing what is right for people (inside and outside the organisation) and respecting privacy boundaries because often revenue is chosen over respect.

I have noticed that brands with a clear sense of purpose have fared better; maybe not financially, but those with a stronger sense of their place in the world were able to cut through the noise and get noticed. Patagonia stands out for me, though there are many others.


Back to your business: now is a good time to sit down and talk about values. In an ideal world, what we want is to find customers who believe what we believe. For our companies to thrive, we don’t need millions of clients. In the words of Kevin Kelly, we may just need 1000 true fans.

Working on your values, examining your intentions towards your clients, your suppliers, and dare I say our planet, is essential if you want the right people to find you. Tepid sentiments (or marketing campaigns) and murky values rarely enthuse people. You know what you’ve got to do.