Tag Archives: Personally Identifiable Information

Increasing Profits for U.S. Corporations is a Social Good

With all our flaws, the world is a better place for having the U.S. in it. We make our share of mistakes but our intentions are always good. We are trying to help out the world as best we can.

Not that we are alone in this. More and more nations every year are awakening to a viewpoint of enlightened self-interest that recognizes our connectedness and the fact that in order for any of us to succeed as nations, we must pretty much all succeed.

It hasn’t always been this way. The world was neatly isolated into silos as recently as a few hundred years ago. No more. All the world economies are linked like dominos.

Companies that used to be American have been bought by others outside America. The surviving American Red White and Blue companies are getting better. Reducing waste. Improving products. Improving processes. Improving marketing and sales. Their profits are going up. As they become less likely to be bought by a foreign company, the U.S. becomes stronger.

With pressure on our jobs and our homes, and everybody working harder than ever before, it sure would be great if we could find ways to pull together and uncork that good old American ingenuity to make our businesses more profitable, to benefit all of us, worker and owner alike.

It sure would be great if we could find a way.

There is a way.

Having moved from the Industrial Age into the Information Age, we now live with an emerging and ever-growing mountain of information we never had before. From which we can learn things. Some of what we learn will make our companies more efficient. Especially in marketing, where we (and the rest of the world) have been terribly inefficient. Yes, we know half of it is wasted effort. Actually, IRI studies years ago showed that 60% of marginal advertising spend and 80% of marginal promotion spend is wasted. We are talking about the better part of a trillion dollars a year being wasted. Even on the scale of a war, we are talking serious money.

What is the bug in the system? We postulate it is the emotionalization of privacy. Certain elements of the press and the government have made hay – sold papers so to speak – with an emotional appeal to make privacy so sacrosanct that balanced rational decisions (vs black-and-white, yes or no choices) are no longer an option. I guess it helped elect a few of them so I can understand from their point of view. But there is a social good to making our research/information/learning backbone more efficient.

The extra bonus to being a columnist who writes about privacy as a protector of his/her readers is that one is not just being entertaining, but is helping the reader and the world.

The irony is that a columnist can be seduced by hidden ego motives into adopting the savior role on the privacy front and wind up consequently working against the needs of the reader, and the electorate. We need two things: privacy protection and a successful U.S. economy, capable of supporting lots of well-paid workers who don’t have to kill themselves to make ends meet and own a home.

Whoever persuaded a large chunk of the American public that privacy protection and obtaining good information to make businesses more efficient were mutually exclusive? We can have our cake and eat it too. It does require data handling methods to be improved far beyond their current state of practice – to the level of the few companies certified by ISO 27001*, who prove we have the technological capability. It also requires the elimination of personally identifiable information except in actual customer relationships where buy-in has been established, and other such warranted cases.

This is not rocket science, but rather a matter of disciplined processes. It is achievable. And the prize is an accelerated economic recovery with a very long growth phase. Nothing has to be sacrificed in the process except long-winded rhetoric.

These points are made definitively in a 62-page tour de force citing chapter and verse entitled “Tragedy of the Data Commons” by Yale graduate Jane Yakowitz, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School. Among the many salient findings: there has been an intellectual effort to paint anonymization as pragmatically impossible, which it clearly is not. Anonymization is achievable through mathematics. The number of data points required to re-identify a person or a household is the science employed today on a daily basis by HIPAA consultants. If we rigorously employ the mathematical science, anonymization cannot be defeated except by the old bugaboo that affects everything and can never be legislated away: human error.

“Tragedy of the Data Commons” is available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1789749

Best to all,


*ISO 27001 is a standard set by the nonprofit International Standards Organization, and covers every aspect of maintaining information security from the procedures one uses when non-employees enter the office to the self-locking of computers and other devices after a few minutes, from the types of firewalls one uses to the way new employees are checked out, and much more.

Note: As we had mentioned, the plan had been to post our thoughts on The Future of Media Research on 4/24, but we are still working on it so it will post on 4/29.