The Privacy Landscape Has Actually Changed

Over the past six months I’ve been working on something new. It’s a software project, and privacy is one of the key selling points. I’m planning on revealing more soon. We should have a beta launch in the middle of the year if all goes well.

As I’ve been working on a marketing plan, I’ve been reflecting a lot on privacy and how the landscape has changed in just a few short years. When I did my blog updates in the fall – removing 3rd party cookies and external scripts, and installing Matomo Analytics – I did so because of how my thoughts on privacy have evolved.

In the past, you’d install anything on your website if it had an even tiny business advantage. You’d collect every bit of data because it might help in some analysis some day. Now? At least for me, and I think a lot of businesses, it’s the opposite. You think “do we really need this?” As I wrote in that post, social media sharing buttons are a perfect example:

There was no need for the Facebook Like or Twitter Share buttons on post pages. If you like a post, you can figure out how to share it without giving up data about your reading habits.

Around the same time, I rewrote a large portion of Detailed Image’s Privacy Policy. The previous version wasn’t bad, but it was written at a time when we’d put something in there that we might do. Or when we’d collect data that we might use. A lot of what was in there was related to information that we didn’t ever collect, or if we did collect it, we never used it. So I was able to stop collecting a few things, disable a few features in Google Analytics like the User-ID feature, and then modernize the privacy policy. What’s up there now feels good when I read it. We have an entire section dedicated to “Blocking Third-Party Services” if you want to, because you can shop with us without any of those things enabled. You can request all of the “Personally Identifiable Information” that we have on you, both because it’s the right thing to do and because it will almost definitely be a legal requirement at some point.

But this really hit home when I started reading the book Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success. I had heard an interview with the author Sean Ellis a while back. I was quite impressed by what he had to say, so I added the book to my wish list. As I started thinking about this new venture, I decided to start reading and re-reading some business books. This book was released in 2017, with most of the case studies coming from 2010 – 2015, before privacy was a concern of the masses.

While the book is quite good, I had to stop reading. A lot of the techniques that he was describing were making major privacy trade-offs without addressing them. It was just a lot of collect this, collect that, collect everything, and then look for patterns in the data. And use a ton of different services to accomplish this as fast as possible. That’s just not how I think anymore. No single concept or tool that the book mentioned was wrong, but the overall mentality felt like it was almost from a different generation.

And that’s kind of when it hit me. The work of the EFF, the EU and other governments, companies like Basecamp, and the media to expose big tech and increase awareness of the deal you’re making when you use their products. It’s making a difference. At least for me anyway. And hopefully that results in different types of companies being built in the 2020’s.