The presidential elections may well be over by the time you get around to reading this November issue, but as I write this column, the campaign is still in full swing.
Yesterday was apparently a slow day for the candidates: On television last night, the big news about George W. Bush was his appearance on the "Oprah Winfrey Show." But it was the Gore side that caught my attention.
The vice president probably gave several hours of speeches, but the sound bite the TV folks showed us had the veep saying, "You have a fundamental right to privacy, and no powerful interest should be allowed to sell it off or take it away."
The report went on to clarify that Gore was talking about "drug companies and insurance companies" selling medical records, then went off on a tangent about the privacy risks of health-related Web sites.
Privacy is a legitimate issue, and behind Gore's comments there were some real cases where corporations abused private information--though it's less clear whether those abuses were deliberate or merely examples of carelessness or stupidity. In any event, there's a need for thoughtful discussion on this topic.
However, the impression left by the news report I saw was that there is a wholesale conspiracy in health-related industries to harm the public through misuse of private information, and that government action is needed to protect us all from those abuses.
Scare stories about customer privacy and the evils of corporate information-gathering are standard fare these days. Meanwhile, CRM companies are spending millions on feel-good image advertising on TV, executive ego-stroking and clever but informationally empty messages about the fundamental coolness of the Web.
How about if the industry's leading companies took some of the money they're spending on TV ads and mounted a campaign to educate the public on how corporate information-gathering, from supermarket "clubs" to clickstream analysis, benefits the consumer? How about telling people how sharing of medical information--in a responsible manner--may lead to better care and lower costs? Or how better understanding of customer needs can help companies develop improved products? Or how analysis of our buying patterns can reduce the number of irrelevant broadcast pitches we all receive?
The politicians and the news media are playing the privacy issue for their own gain, to capture votes and build ratings, and they're doing it at our expense. It's time for the CRM community--users and vendors alike--to tell its side of the story.
Larry Tuck, Editor