Are Asian’s Finally Waking up to Privacy Concerns?
First posted on Linkedin November 6th 2020
Many of us are spending more time away from the office these days due to the new normal of working from home. As we do, we find ourselves with a bit more discretionary time on our hands for indulging in activities like watching Netflix. And although this can lead to late night binging, it can also lead to some greater understanding too. And I have just gained some interesting insight from watching the controversial documentary called The Social Dilemma.
When we could travel, I often got asked to speak on technology innovations as an expert in AdTech and enterprise solutions. As I visited different countries and cities, I noticed that my fellow Asian contemporaries were less concerned with personal privacy in comparison to advertising targets.
As citizens, it seems convenience and access to personalized services was more important than privacy controls.
Like the Silicon Valley Facebook and Google technologists interviewed in the movie, executives in Asian AdTech companies were not particularly concerned with privacy when developing and implementing solutions. They were more focused on improving efficiencies, increasing traction, and adding more features and benefits.
Now, I see that things might be changing. In The Social Dilemma the documentarians make the point that people's behaviour is being transformed by their relationship to engagement fueled advertising. These features that are embedded in our apps and favorite software are designed to encourage further engagement. The movie further suggests the tracking of our behavior and preferences alters our individual media feeds, creating bubbles that affirm a particular worldview again and again. The frightening thing that the movie points out is that this can be devastating for our critical thinking and understanding of objective truth.
But do Asian citizens feel this way? Are they starting to become concerned or is this fear mainly contained to western democracies that traditionally have greater concerns over privacy. I feel that sentiments are changing and people of Asia are starting to think more carefully about how their personal information is being used. If sentiments are changing, what effect will this have on our industry and how can we best be prepared for this shift in thinking?
More and more people are talking about these concerns. Previously it was a conversation around benefits versus personal data protection, but people are waking up to the full extent of what is being shared and how this can negatively influence people’s behavior. Regional examples of Myanmar using Facebook to incite violence and China's facial recognition system that will add and track nearly every single citizen in the country are starting to alarm people to the potential dangers of these technologies.
What I believe people are starting to realize is it is a different kind of privacy we are giving up. It's not just our location and profile information; it is basically giving companies the means and ability to manipulate you. Now, as an AdTech executive, I understand the fine line between selling and manipulating and I know this is something we are very aware of and take seriously.
People of Asia are starting to understand this threat more, so advertisers and vendors have to be more transparent about how personal data is being used. People still want the many benefits that can come from personalization, but it's important that publishers do it in an ethical way and the process is transparent. Technologists should also start to think about designing more controls into their features and developments.
People still want or perhaps even need the benefits of customized ads, but they are not going to want the manipulation that comes with it. In the future people will demand more control over how their information can be used, so we must start thinking about how we can build these solutions into our technology now.
For vendors, advertisers, and content creators, this can even be an opportunity as the first movers will ultimately be able to build more trust with their users. If we don’t, we may risk losing these valuable customers to more savvy competitors.
Advisor for Aiforgood Asia