With the ongoing public dialogue concerning the intersection of technological innovation, national security, and privacy that followed Edward Snowden’s revelations of classified information last year, it is no surprise that privacy and security were top themes at SXSW Interactive this year.  The following summarizes key points made about privacy throughout the Interactive conference, which ended last week.

  • Like going green or getting healthy, prioritizing privacy and developing a culture of transparency is hard work involving diligent decision making and worthwhile tradeoffs that often involve a substantial upfront investment, the benefits of which may only become clear in the medium or long term.
  • Big Data is not the Big Bad Wolf if viewed as a collaborative effort between companies and consumers to aggregate data “together” in order to improve products and services, all while protecting privacy and respecting consumer choice.
  • The public remains uninformed and confused, but consumer consciousness has risen to a level where privacy as a general principle is regarded as important enough that it can be used concretely by companies for competitive advantage.
  • Baking in privacy up front means having product discussions that focus on tangible results and framework-based solutions, whereas conversations about privacy in the abstract are often perceived as stymying innovation.
  • Privacy by design, throughout product development, is always better than remedial privacy, when solutions can become more challenging.
  • Self-governance is not enough, and accountability for bad behavior is just as critical as deterrence, but prescriptive legislation drafted in response to major events almost always misses the boat after vectors of attack have already changed.
  • Unlike the EU, where privacy is considered a fundamental right, privacy in the US is a consumer choice that is redefined moment by moment via social contract, which is why transparency is key.
  • Transparency, transparency, transparency; say what you do; do what you say; no surprises.