Lesson: Privacy Matters

05 Nov Lesson: Privacy Matters

Privacy matters to users. It matters a lot. That should be obvious, except that many times what seems like a small issue for us, may actually be a much larger issue for our users. An anecdote: Today on their blog, business web app maker 37signals shared some aggregate usage data from their Highrise CRM application. Company founder Jason Fried posted a chart showing how many contacts were in the apps entire database (of over eight million) from each country. Because users can enter whatever they want into the country field when entering a contact, the data paints an interesting picture of how people prefer to reference countries (US vs. USA vs. United States vs. U.S. or UK vs. United Kingdom vs. Great Britain, etc.). The data is mildly interesting, and I assume that’s why Fried posted it — he thought it was kind of neat and wanted to share. But almost immediately, users chimed in with privacy concerns. “I’m a fan of 37signals, so please don’t take this the wrong way. But I have to ask,” wrote one commenter. “Did we agree in our licensing to people going through our data? Do you stop at looking over addresses, or is there other info 37signals staff combs through. I’d like a little more of an illusion of security with regards to our data in Highrise.” Fried immediate reassured commenters that this was aggregate country data pulled from a database and nothing personally identifiable was attached to it at all. “No one’s personal data is being reviewed or exposed or scrutinized or in any way compromised. This is faceless automated aggregate data,” he said.

SitePoint, Australia, By Josh Catone, November 5, 2008