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Simple Facts About Information Privacy Online
Friday, October 7th, 2011

I had the good fortune of attending MESH 2011 in Toronto back in May this year. Since Information privacy is something we take very seriously at Ascentum, one of the presentations that I chose to attend was on Information Privacy by Dominic Jaar where he highlighted some key facts about online privacy. Below I’ve summarized his key messages, and wrote how we try to overcome some of these challenges at Ascentum.

Privacy statements are usually hidden and are changed frequently

Almost all sites insist on making their registration process quick and simple. Therefore, they prefer to keep users from spending time on privacy statements. Here at Ascentum, we try to find a balance – between simplicity and ensuring that engagement website users take the time to read through and understand the fine print. Exposing users to our privacy statements is one of the key steps during registration.

What most sites also mention in their privacy statement is that they reserve the right to change their privacy statement without prior notice. And with all social media sites releasing new features almost every other day to keep up with the competition, it becomes a necessity to revisit privacy and settings as frequently as possible to keep your information safe.

It is among Ascentum’s best practices to not modify privacy statements after a website has been launch. In rare cases where we do need to make any changes to our privacy statement, we either follow it up with a clear and visible message on our home page and/or send out an email to our participants notifying them of the recent change.

Most mainstream users typically ignore privacy settings

In his book Simple and Usable, Giles Colborne outlined 3 main types of internet users. Experts, who are willing to spend time on a new product and its features and love to customize their products; Willing Adopters, who are tempted to use something sophisticated but uncomfortable with something entirely new; and finally Mainstreamers, who just use a product to get their job done.

Since there aren’t too many people who fall in to the first two groups, most sites are designed with Mainstreamers in mind. What that means is that site registration fields have been simplified and reduced to bare minimum. And newly registered accounts start off with preset privacy settings. Proper use of privacy settings is dependent on user skill set.

Ascentum approaches its website designs with all three users in mind and ensures no one is left in the dark based on their online skill sets. Along with our registration process presenting privacy statements clearly, our submission form feature further allows users to choose whether they would like to make their entries public or keep them private and only for analysis.

Privacy policies of a site are compelled by law of the country the site is hosted in

Back in 2009, Facebook had to readdress their privacy settings after they were found to be in conflict with the Canadian Privacy Law. Similarly, LinkedIn privacy policies are bound by California Government Law which may not necessarily agree with information privacy laws in other countries.

Ascentum counters these privacy conflicts by hosting all web sites locally. Our servers reside in Canada and come equipped with SSL encryption by default to ensure maximum data privacy.

So why share your information at all?

Answer: Return on Investment (ROI), i.e. visibility, contacts, connections, better product deals, etc..

  • In the case of Facebook, your ROI could be connection with friends, coworkers or family.
  • In the case of LinkedIn, your ROI could be professional contacts, following your favourite brands and companies, career advancement.
  • By participating online for Ascentum, your ROI could be ability to enable change and make a difference in the field you care about most. Whether it is a change in the workplace, schools, healthcare or your own community.

Conclusion

Here at Ascentum, we ensure that our process of dealing with user-related information abides with Canadian legislation. However, when it comes to popular social media, the best practice in order to ensure your information privacy is to use common sense. At the end of the day, users control what they share on the web regardless of privacy policies set by social media platforms.

 

-Salman Shakeel-

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