Why transparency and privacy
should go hand in hand
JULY 13TH, 2010 |
I was speaking at the recent Google Zeitgeist conference in London. On one panel, a privacy
advocate argued that she was against transparency, and that all this talk about openness was
frightening. She argued that anyone who favors privacy should oppose transparency.
I for one, am both a transparency advocate and a privacy advocate. Transparency is an opportunity
and even obligation for corporations and other institutions. But it is not an opportunity or obligation of
individuals. Individuals have the obligation to withhold and protect their personal information. Let me
In MacroWikinomics (September 28, 2010), Anthony Williams and I look at how the Net is finally
becoming the basis for commerce, work, entertainment, healthcare, learning and much human
discourse, and how we are the better for it. But one consequence of these digital interactions is the
spinoff of a staggering and ever-increasing volume of data. At Zeitgeist, Google CEO Eric Schmidt
notes that between the dawn of civilization and 2003 there were 5 exabytes of data collected (an
exabyte equals 1 quintillion bytes). Today 5 exabytes of data gets collected every
This has big implications for companies. People and institutions interacting with firms have
unprecedented access to information about corporate behavior, operations, and performance.
Armed with new tools to find information, a variety of stakeholders now scrutinize the firm like never
before, informing others and organizing collective responses.
Customers can evaluate confidently the true worth of products and services. Employees share
formerly secret information about corporate strategy, management and challenges. To collaborate
effectively, companies and their business partners have no choice but to share intimate knowledge.
Powerful institutional investors today own or manage most wealth, and they are developing x-ray
vision. Finally, in a world of instant communications, whistleblowers, inquisitive media, and Googling,
citizens and communities routinely put firms under the microscope.
A welcome upshot of increased scrutiny is that business integrity is on the rise. Companies need to
do good – act with integrity – not just to secure a healthy business environment, but for their own
sustainability and competitive advantage. Firms that exhibit ethical values and transparency have
discovered that they can be more competitive and more profitable. Transparency is no longer simply