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Transparency vs Privacy: How Much Communication is too Much?
March 29, 2012
Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said “Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life.” Yes, private and secret information existed once. But nowadays, there’s little Google & Friends can’t unearth. Which begs the question – how much information is enough? Is our insatiable craving for transparency hurting or helping? The truth lives in a vast gray zone.
On one hand, transparency is forcing companies to take more responsibility over their supply chains. Transparency is, it might be argued, bringing values back into the equation – as unethical secrets come into the spotlight. Transparency is a key part of my business brand. And I see a growing market for companies looking for ways to reveal more and more.
On a personal level, I also see a growing demand by consumers for transparency. I can illustrate with an example from my hometown, Sao Paulo.
A law was passed a few years back stating that Sao Paulo bars and restaurants must display a sign inviting customers to visit the kitchen. This led to many restaurants going one step further – installing a big window to show the chef actually preparing the dishes. This became the new normal. So it caused quite a stir in my neighborhood when one of our local restaurants covered its kitchen window. The collective first impression was that there was a problem. Turns out, our hunch was right. Long story short – once you commit to transparency, there’s no going back.
Even the federal reserve has changed their announcement policy – explaining the decisions they are making on interest rate projections and opening a session for Q&A. Many governments are passing laws to allow full transparency into all government investment and spending.
Businesses are being asked to do the same – and willing or not, they’re getting on board. Truth is, the pressure on companies to validate their practices (and their suppliers’ practices) is increasing daily. In some companies, like Victoria’s Secret, the pressure is taking new shape. The lingerie giant is moving to take control and ownership of the entire supply chain. Consumers have demonstrated they won’t tolerate Victoria’s Secret cotton that’s been harvested by child labor.
There is sweeping, large scale change happening. If he were alive, Gabriel Garcia Marquez will have to rethink his quote – is there still room for three levels of transparency? Which brings me back to my original point. How much transparency is too much? Will the lack of privacy take some of the fun away? Is that a bad thing? Do we want a Wikileak world, or one with a bit of magic?
I don’t have the answers. Nobody does. Part of me (the business part) welcomes the new world. And part of me (the citizen part) yearns for a return to simpler times, when we’d go on blind dates without actually googling our date into oblivion before sharing a plate of tapas.
In a restaurant with a window to the kitchen, of course.