Data Hoarders Threaten Privacy: Why People View Facebook as a Threat, but Not Amazon

The fact is big business is collecting a ton of data on us. It’s also a well-known rumor (or fact) that the US government is at the top of the list when it comes to watching our every move online. Social networking, however, often has the worst reputation when it comes to privacy. Why? Much if has to do not so much with the data collected as the way that is it being used.

Surveys have revealed which companies are viewed as the largest threats to privacy. Facebook and Twitter, two of the biggest social networking sites, seem to always be high on the list. Additionally, while Google (perhaps the largest data collector of them all) has only seen people grow in concern over their data collection in the past two years, those concerns have nearly doubled recently.

On the flip side, we find Amazon. People rate it as among one of the safest sites with a mere one in 15 people being concerned over privacy and nearly half of consumers admiring their privacy policy. So, why the discrepancy? Doesn’t Amazon collect a ton of data on everyone and use it to solicit sales? Of course they do! Here’s the difference.

Big companies like Google and Facebook seem to collect data just for the sake of having it all. Amazon has a specific purpose: They want to sell us stuff. Internet-dependent companies that collect data with no apparent purpose can drum some scary ideas into people’s heads and have us wondering what they’re doing with all that information. With Amazon, we associate data collection with recommended products and targeted emails. That’s actually a convenience.

The trend is understandable. People have no problem giving up their personal data if they know why you want it. We trust Amazon. They’re a business with a great reputation. We don’t worry about personal information being sold to the highest bidder, relinquished to the government, or locked away forever for some secret future plan. Amazon just wants our money, and they are nice enough to use personal data they collect on us to recommend what we should give it to them for.

So if you want to collect data, make the purpose clear. Don’t be ambiguous about hanging on to it for some unexplained reason that might involve future sales to third parties, anti-terrorism intel collection, or just a belief that the company with the most data wins. Data hoarders threaten privacy. Consumers want transparency, and they want tangible returns on the data that gets collected on them.