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“The internet lets you return to your village roots. But now you can choose who lives in the village with you.”

Kevin Wheeler’s comment was made during a debate about privacy in the TruLondon Masterclass, “Social Media Fascists and Mobile Evangelists”. His premise is that many of us grew up in small villages and thought nothing of the fact that everyone knew everything about everyone. That our lives were open books to family, friends, neighbours, the corner store keeper, the curtain twitchers and back fence chatters, the local sports club members, etc. And that anyone passing through the village could pick up clues about the individuals living there – based on either observation or via a more direct approach (“Wow, lovely house. Who lives there?”)! Kevin’s point was that we have no less control over our freedom and privacy now than we did back then. Only now we can choose who we share with. What an apt and eloquent description!

In some way I can understand that people are concerned about privacy and data. And yet, the majority of us have credit cards, loyalty cards and coupons and don’t think twice about them in terms of privacy issues.  If somebody really wants to retrieve information about us they are able to do so. And this is not a new capability! Hell, in the UK today, for £4.99 you can find out the price anyone paid for their house and nobody seems overly bothered by that. So let’s not jump on the privacy bandwagon now. Instead, let’s use it to our advantage and create a better reality for ourselves.

It’s your data, so use it to your advantage

Engage digitally – share your talents via blogging or uploading artwork, reach out via Twitter and Facebook, draw on the knowledge of others to widen your understanding via Quora and Hipster and bring it all together in a manageable but multi-dimensional form with Hashable & co – and therefore gain a certain control about the virtual image that is being constructed about you. Engage digitally and receive a more tailored, predictive service from companies. And if a company misuses your data, strike them down and let others know about it.

Because you know what? Even though companies’ terms of conditions might say that they own the data, to my mind personal data is always, and should always be, the individual’s property and should only ever be used in the individual’s best interests. Incidentally, I still believe in the good of mankind and that the majority of us will actually treat other people the way they want to be treated and have a sound ethical and moral backbone.

The circle of trust – control, freedom & the digital footprint

Nevertheless, whilst actively managing one’s digital footprint, the individual will and should compartmentalise access much more. Your real contact details will and should be only visible to the trusted core, your family and close friends.

In the future – by that I mean in a maximum of 5 years time – the following will become standard behaviour: Instead of having 2,000 friends on Facebook, there will be smaller, manageable groups with different, but clearly defined access rights that can be altered and revoked by the individual. Hashable has taken the first step with their “inner circle”.

Just these chosen ones will have your contact details and mobile number. Everybody else will only be able to reach you via virtual PO Boxes such as LinkedIn’s in-mail and forwarding numbers. So, in the future, the value of communication and level of engagement will be controlled by the individual and nobody else.  So whilst the individual may appear more prominent on the web and seemingly more accessible, true access will be restricted to a small circle of trustees.

So what does this change in user behaviour mean for companies?

Duty of care lies with Businesses

The consequences for businesses are quite clear: They don’t own the individual. All they can do is get to know him or her, so that they can deliver very specific, tailored solutions or opportunities. The delivery mechanism is just as important and needs to be specific and tailored to the individual’s settings of access and requirements. Companies need to realise that although data is available everywhere, the data itself is not a competitive advantage. It’s what they do with the data and how they deliver against the data that becomes their business advantage.

In an ideal scenario, businesses start reading the individual’s mind (through dynamic, forward looking data sets based on folksonomy and taxonomy), to  present solutions that surprise and delight by tapping into latent needs or desires. And the individual enjoys something they didn’t even know they wanted in the first place.

And needs or desires are exactly what the village’s back fence chatters love to talk about!

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