The changing face of privacy

THE issue of privacy has long confronted the media and the high profile people it has targeted.

In fact, the modern perception of journalists as a lower form of life than almost any other profession probably comes from the extraordinary efforts of tabloid newspapers to peek into the private lives of the rich and famous.

The most notable occasion was the death of Princess Diana, killed in a car crash while being pursued by a freelance photographer on a motorcycle.

But, like many experiences, the concept of privacy affected the upper echelons of society long before the general populace considered it an issue.

Beyond making sure peeping Toms could be arrested for looking in our bedroom windows, most privacy concerns have centred on controlling how governments could use the information it demanded of us.

Technology has changed all this.

Suddenly, huge databases of names and private details can be sent around the globe at the switch of a button.

These are not our medical records – which we feared governments would release to our insurers – but a vast array of commercial information, buying habits and sensitive details like salary levels which we have often volunteered ourselves. These databases are extremely potent devices. The owners have used them to good effect to market goods and services to existing customers.

Last year, when the tech boom was at its zenith, telcos and similar companies were valued at a multiple of their number of customers.

Inflated beyond any semblance of reality, these prices reflected the market’s belief that telcos’ control of mobile phones would inevitably make them the gatekeepers of Internet traffic.

And it was through the Internet that goods would be targeted at individuals who did not even realise they had been specially selected to receive certain advertising.

Perhaps there is something wrong with this, but I don’t recall a groundswell of criticism.

Then again, maybe the Federal Government, in a rare moment of policy insight, is acting ahead of an issue. Whatever the case, we are soon to have heavy restrictions placed on how data is collected, stored and used.

Unfortunately, the burden of implementing another regime of compliance comes at a time when many businesses are a bit sick of burdens, particularly one which appears to solve a problem very few of us were aware existed.

The government might have to do some more explaining on this one.

Government slows it down

IT seems the property industry is the latest sector hit by the Gallop Government’s efforts to rein in costs, often by simply doing nothing.

Already the advertising industry is reeling from the blows it has received and for many of its service industries, like graphic design and printers, the effect is multiplied when departments cut back on public relations, marketing and the production of annual reports.

It is a vexed question as to just how much there is to gain from this.

Every saving Dr Gallop can make now will provide a handy warchest when election time comes around.

And there is no doubt that Government spending on a whole host of things can be reduced. That a Labor government is attempting it is intriguing in itself. Welcome to the middle road of polictics where the economy rules.

There is also the issue of timing.

Is it Dr Gallop’s fault that his electoral term starts at a time when the country is suffering from economic policies put in place by a Liberal government in Canberra?

Probably not. But those in power should beware of the impact they have on business and, in turn, the community at large.

The State Government is a big spender in WA. Like it or not, as WA loses big corporate offices, Government departments represent a significant number of major decision makers.

There is also the hidden cost of withdrawing from the market.

Government advertising is often likened to propaganda but the media is also a cost effective way of getting important messages to their target audience. Annual reports might not need to be too glossy but they convey necessary information.

And, like any organisation, government departments grow and contract according to their place in the community.

Sometimes this means they have to move office.

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