Gen X Think Tank: It’s All About Privacy

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In our second installment of the #GenXTT I was excited to bring a bunch of smart GenXers together to espouse their views on privacy. After the Millennial Think Tank Session on Privacy, I wanted to determine if there were differences in perception about Privacy among GenXers, especially given the increasing influence of technology.

This session brought together the following Xers:

  • Bob LeDrew – A social media consultant and ukele fanatic and older GenXer
  • Dallas Kincaid – An entrepreneur in the Colocation space, a breeder of cats (??) and older GenXer
  • Duane Myers – A lobbyist and political consultant, and an older GenXer
  • Jason Konopinski – A writer/content marketer, avid bicyclist and yoga instructor, and a younger GenXer
  • Jen Lee Reeves – A social media trainer working for AARP, and a middle GenXer
  • Jon Lazar – A freelance computer programmer, a published author, 7-time marathoner, and mid-lower end GenXer
  • Jure Klepic – A digital marketer focused on consumer insights, and a middle GenXer (although he says he’s 21:)

If you want to view the hangout, here it is in its entirety: (below is the recap)

We framed the discussion around the following stats from Pew Research:

  • 86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints—including: clearing cookies to encrypting their email,  avoiding using their name, and using virtual networks that mask their internet protocol (IP) address.
  • 55% of internet users have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government
  • still, 59% of internet users do not believe it is possible to be completely anonymous online, while 37% believe it is possible.

A section of the survey looking at various security-related issues finds that notable numbers of internet users say they have experienced problems because others stole their personal information or otherwise took advantage of their visibility online

  • 21% of internet users have had an email or social networking account compromised or taken over by someone else without permission.
  • 13% of internet users have experienced trouble in a relationship between them and a family member or a friend because of something the user posted online.
  • 12% of internet users have been stalked or harassed online.
  • 6% of internet users have had their reputation damaged because of something that happened online.
  • 4% of internet users have been led into physical danger because of something that happened online.


Amy Vernon referenced a post she had written about Privacy vs. Progress and alluded to the fact that as much as we’ve done to protect our data and information, there’s this realization that we really don’t have control. Amy specifically mentioned Symantec using the Raspberry Pi to “snatch” data from people (sporting wearables) who were exercising at a public event. As per Amy,

The line between the have and have-nots will enable those with money to purchase their own data…while the rest of the masses will have to do without.

Free Means An Exchange of My Privacy

Bob LeDrew stated that we should free all of our data, thereby hindering any one organization or government from having so much power. Duane Myers countered that the problem with this would be the misinformation that comes with not understanding the context of data and its impact on reputation.

Amy Vernon noted how easy it is to take one piece of information out of context. She told of an incident where an individual took screen-shots of online conversations between Amy and another friend and disseminated the information to others. However innocuous the conversation had been, the fact that each screen shot had been taken out of context, and without Amy and her friend’s knowledge, caused damage in the process.

Amy does not share public photos of her kids online and is careful about the information she does post about them. She had no illusions about privacy, and she’s careful about other people having knowledge about her children as they get older.

Dallas pointed out that Joe Public is unaware that the free tools they have access to, like Gmail or Facebook, are selling their data. As per Jen Reeves,

I’m totally cool about giving up information about me if it makes my life easier. But, I’m also aware that what I’m giving up is privacy.

Some more sophisticated users are unwilling to give any one company too much of their information, and will opt to use different browser services. Interestingly, Amy told us about an app called Ghostery which allows users to see whose is tracking them. People, by and large, are just unaware.

Everyone agreed that use of social platforms is a fair exchange for user data collection. As per Dallas,

100% [agree]. House rules. If I’m using a private service and it’s your house, then I have to agree to your rules. If you say, “you come into my house and everything is recorded” then I have the choice [to enter].

Jason Konopinski brought up an interesting point: While everyone is up in arms about proper disclosure within the terms of service, those very same individuals who want the functionality within their devices means the product needs to have access to microphones and photos. Are we willing to forego the “value” of these applications, and ultimately the access?

If we are giving people ultimately what they want, then why are we having this discussion?

Bob clarified that the communication from the organization needs to clearly state the value for the user, and be transparent about why they need the information. Amy agrees that had Facebook Messenger done this, the blow-up over the terms of service would have been alleviated. And while most of the panel agreed that no one reads the terms of service, Amy noted that the general public needs those terms to be spelled out for them.

This is clearly a balancing act. I referenced a quote from a Julie Bernard, CMO of Macy’s who said,

There’s a funny consumer thing ,” [says Bernard]. “They’re worried about our use of data, but they’re pissed if I don’t deliver relevance. … How am I supposed to deliver relevance and magically deliver what they want if I don’t look at the data?

This speaks to the ultimate experience that comes with the rise of technology. Jason states that Amazon’s recommendation engine is the best service because it understands his buying habits and searches; it saves him time to get to the product he ultimately wants.

It’s a win-win. I get what I want. [Amazon] gets my money even faster.

User Have Been Tracked for Years…. Even Before the Internet

I made the point that marketers in this panel know the extent to which advertisers and the government have used information for direct mail, banner ads, etc. but the general public ONLY stumbled upon the extent to which this was happening when the FTC disclosed the Facebook Privacy scandal.

Most of the panel agreed that this was not new to them, and used examples like the collection of information by credit cards, loyalty programs, your local grocery store etc.  I pointed out that the panel did not represent the norm. Jure made a good point about brands like Walmart and Target who use the data to do predictive analysis on the things you are likely to purchase.

I loved Bob LeDrew’s parallel regarding the early days when hotels started taking reservations online. People refused to provide their credit card information to a website, called 1-800 numbers instead. As he pointed out, they had no idea who they were actually giving their credit card to and jokingly said: “You’re calling a convict!”

People, unwittingly, put their trust in that phone service. And John Lazar verified that when he worked at a major online retailer, the credit card numbers given to the people answering those 1-800 numbers were then passed through to a department, which entered the information onto the computer.

So, it didn’t really matter… you just thought you were being safe

And perhaps being safe is difficult because, as Duane notes, the average person is lazy and may not necessarily subscribe to VPN or measures to ensure that their information is safe. “Information is power” and individuals must be more cognizant about how that information is disseminated.

From Jen’s standpoint, people are foregoing significant benefits by fiercely holding on to their privacy.  If they accepted the fact that that their information was out there, they would see inherent benefits by connecting more with their loved ones and being part of the community etc.

What does Privacy mean to you?

GenXers have a looser definition of privacy and are willing to accept, perhaps, that our information is being tracked. Amy Vernon noted that because we grew up with technology we sit between the gap of sharing nothing and sharing everything.

  • Jen Reeves, who jumped into the internet early on, has evolved with the space. She gave up privacy because she wanted community, which she did not have where she lived. Her daughter has only one hand so Jen sought out people with similar circumstances online, and eventually built a community herself. Everyone in her community knows her name, as well as her family members. The family agreed and chose that level of transparency because of the need to make a bigger impact.
  • Dallas was unabashed by his level of transparency online. But from his viewpoint, as long as he wasn’t doing anything wrong there was no reason to be concerned with privacy. He was unphased with the level of tracking that exists today.
  • Jure, from Slovenia, a former Eastern block country, put it this way:

Privacy does not exist. From the day you are born you are giving up your information whether you want to or not. Privacy is just an illusion — nothing else.

As per Amy, perhaps his experience creates context into Jure’s description of Privacy. Jure noted that people in Slovenia do not necessarily use Facebook. Regardless, when he studied medicine, he could have access to private medical records by putting in simple passwords.

  • Duane disagreed that being open and not doing anything wrong should mean we have to accept that privacy doesn’t exist.  He said he constantly tells clients “E in e-mail stands for evidence.” Duane agreed that for most people Privacy is an illusion because users, at large, don’t understand the basics and erroneously assume that deleting an email means the information is gone forever.
  • I noted that privacy is a privilege, not an absolute right. It does exist. People do have secrets and it’s up to each individual to decide what they want to disclose. It’s a matter of choice, not necessarily what society deems as “criminal.”  Jure countered my argument and said that all secrets eventually come out.
  • Bob LeDrew pointed out that nothing is ever really black and white: “We never have absolute transparency. We never have absolute Privacy….. because it is all contextual.” And while he agreed with Jure, Bob indicated that we have a right to some level of privacy as well. He referenced the recent scandal involving CBC Radio Talk Show host, Jian Ghomeshi.
  • John Lazar referenced #theFappening, where internet photos  of celebrities had been leaked. The most recent incident involved Jennifer Lawrence; her photos were stored in iCloud, where hackers were able to access and trade the images amongst themselves. Dallas noted the naivite of people who send provocative pictures electronically and assume that there is no chance of that information ever being compromised.

Are there viable alternatives to Facebook?

I brought up the recent introduction of the new social networks Tsu and Ello. Most of the panelists said they had early access, and they all agreed that even the savviest of marketers realize that unless there is momentum, it’s difficult to fully embrace a service, even if it had a more acceptable privacy alternative. Amy Vernon indicated that Tsu was nothing more than a “Ponzi Scheme” and Ello was virtually a wasteland.

The choice to stay “where the cool kids are, where there’s a line-up,” as per Dallas, is where the panelists came to consensus – despite the face that they were aware of how Facebook continues to try to surface more contextual information about its users.

Duane wasn’t bothered by this fact because he has been careful not to disclose his job, or his relationships, on the social network. It’s less about being private but more about his “willingness” to disclose specific information to the platform for free. It’s the same reason he does not use the Facebook Messenger service. Interesting to note that Duane is fully aware of what Facebook is doing and he respects this; it’s his choice to NOT use those services. As Duane says,

It has nothing to do with legalities. My information is mine to disseminate.


Do you use Wearables? Are you Aware of what Wearables are Broadcasting?

Health information (medical data, heart rates) via Fitbit, Jawbone and now iPhone 6, can now be tracked via wearables. Integration of this information with social platforms becomes an additional privacy risk. Jure noted  that a friend’s heart rate information popped up on Facebook one evening, and it immediately drew a conclusion about the “reason” for the increased heart rate. The impact on one’s ability to get insurance, or even employment were definite concerns that Duane pointed out.

Jon Lazar loved his wearables and the information it gave him but he wanted to control where that information ended up, and did not connect it to any service to autopost. He wanted the “quantified self” that provided him progress information. And, while the information that is disclosed currently is seemingly harmless, as Jason argued, “The potential is there [to disclose so much more]”.

I noted that, beyond wearables, everything in our home will eventually become automated, and technology will be at the heart of it. Both Jen and Dallas were comfortable with this. As Jen said,

Everyone in our house is geo-located with our phones. Our house knows when any of us are at home. It’s for convenience. At any one point we know where all of us are.

What about Anonymized Applications like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat? Are we Receding into Anonymity because of Privacy?

Jen indicated this is a misnomer. The creation of these apps was the result of kids listening to their parents who cautioned them about the content they posted. Therefore kids turned to Snapchat erroneously thinking that what they posted would eventually disappear.

Duane indicated that there are other apps that have a stronger level of encryption. This does not include Snapchat or Whisper, and most importantly, your friends are not be there, so why use them?

Jason spoke about the fundamental need these apps serve: People want to share but don’t necessarily want to broadcast. It gives them a chance to get things off their chest [with no judgement, no reprisal].

Whisper admitted that user information was being tracked for criminal activities. If we can’t even trust anonymous apps to mask our information, then what’s the point?


When I compare the outcome of this GenXTT Privacy session with that of Millennial TT, it’s clear that there is little difference in grave concerns about the use of personal information. Both groups are technology savvy and are fully aware of not only how much and to what extent their data is being used; they are also embracing the notion that privacy may not necessarily be a reality.

And while there’s been acknowledgement that privacy is needed at some level, these GenXers have come to accept that their information should be harnessed to give them the convenience, the functionality they desire, and the connected-ness that is expected today.

I do not necessarily think this group represents “Joe Public,” and I would entertain holding another GenX Privacy Think Tank among those who have more “elevated” privacy concerns.

Join us on our next GenXTT – November 18, 2014: the Economy and the Impact on Jobs/Careers.

photo credit: Frédéric Poirot via photopin cc

One thought on “Gen X Think Tank: It’s All About Privacy

  1. ArCIntel says:

    AegisProtection Thank you for sharing. There is another Gen X Think Tank tonight.

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