Privacy protection and e-commerce

marketing, keyboardPrivacy is a mixed blessing. While most people value their privacy, in recent times the rules surrounding privacy have become burdensome. Try acting on behalf of your partner on the telephone and you will often come up against a brick wall of bureaucracy.

The ludicrosity of this is that many organisations and companies will happily allow you to proceed with transactions on behalf of your partner provided they can talk to the person and receive permission. Whether the person with whom they converse is who they say they are seems to be of little concern. Personally, I need to put my wife on the line to ‘verify’ her existence. If I was adept at mimicking a female voice, I guess I could get away without bothering her.

Although this attempt at protecting privacy is weak, it is commendable. At least some attempt is being made to protect identity. But what about the flip side of this? Individuals’ privacy is being violated daily by retailers – and especially by online retailers. Researching an item online will invariably lead to you then being peppered with approaches by all and sundry offering similar products.

In December 2013, James Bickers wrote an article on under the title Anonymity, Privacy And Onions. The reference to an onion is the acronym ‘TOR’ for ‘The Onion Router’. TOR encrypts data in a protocol, rather like the nesting layers found in an onion. It is free software that allows anonymous communication and it has been used for years, often for nefarious reasons.

In the same year The Guardian talked about Stanford students back in 1971 using Arpanet accounts at the University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to engage in transactions with their counterparts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before Amazon and before eBay, the seminal act of e-commerce was a drug deal. The students used the network to discretely arrange the sale of an undetermined amount of marijuana. Thus the concept of protecting identity online has been around for over 40 years

Will retailers, and especially online retailers, drive consumers towards using software designed to protect their anonymity? And if that happens, then what are the implications for multichannel and omnichannel?

Stuart Bennie is a retail consultant at Impact Retailing and can be contacted at or 0414 631 702.

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