Privacy is a type of conversation.

Firms should view privacy not as some inconvenient obsession of customers that must be snuck around but more as a way to cultivate a genuine relationship.

The standard rejoinder by firms to objections from customers for more personal information is, “The more you tell us, the better we can serve you.” This is true, but not sufficient. An individual can’t comfortably divulge unless there is trust.

Take the trust many people feel in a small town. The interesting thing about a small town is that the old lady who lived across the street from you knew every move you made. She knew who came to visit you and what time they left. From your routine she knew where you went, and why you were late. Two things kept this knowledge from being offensive: 1) When you were out, she kept an eye on your place, and 2) you knew everything about her. You knew who came to visit her and where she went (and while she was gone you kept an eye on her place). More important, you knew that she knew. You were aware that she kept an eye on you, and she knew that you watched her. There was a symmetry to your joint knowledge. There was a type of understanding, of agreement. She wasn’t going to rifle through your mailbox, and neither would you peek in hers, but if you had a party and someone passed out on the porch, you could count on the neighborhood knowing about it the next day. And vice versa. The watchers are watched.



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