It’s Not About Privacy…It’s About Power


“Knowledge is Power” 

– Francis Bacon

The privacy debate is the shadow cast over the start to our 21st Century. We are surrounded by extreme views. Privacy is political; just ask Snowden. Privacy is over, declares Mark Zuckerberg. Privacy is space, says the teenager behind a closed door.

Amidst these differing views it’s evident is that the privacy norms of the past are fast eroding in the digital, wi-fi enabled, security-camera tracked world we inhabit.

I am not sure it is going to get better in the short term; in fact I think it is going to get a lot worse. In part, because we focussed on debating privacy, when the real issue is power.

Recently, at The Privacy Advantage conference in London, I was honoured to join a panel of stellar privacy advocates including John Taysom, Ian Ferguson, Amit Pau and Alan Mitchell.  The conference was the brainchild of Geoff Revill, CEO of Krowdthink. A first in exploring the integration of the commercial opportunity of privacy and the new GDPR legislation in Europe.

Geoff and I share the view that privacy can actually be a differentiator; that it’s possible to act in the best interest of customers, patients, citizens and students AND operate a successful organisation.

During the panel discussion a question from the audience came from the father of teenagers.  He was direct about how his children use social media and ‘free‘ services, stating that the bargain of free in return for tracking was OK with him. He was confident that  kids today know what they are giving up and are happy with the bargain. The problem is…’s really too soon to know what they are giving up…..and IF or HOW it might impact their future?

I responded to the question from a different perspective.  Talking to kids about privacy, or telling them how to behave on-line probably falls into the category of “clean your room or…back in my day”.  Instead I think we need a different conversation, to be helping them explore the potential power they hold and how to help them assert it.

We need to shift the conversation from privacy to power. Intention will be a very important aspect of the network economics of the future. We need to talk to young people about power and how they are part of the value chain

Power is a challenging conversation to have. It implies opposition and the absence of parity. It’s not polite, so it’s the conversation we avoid. And yet, as our lives become increasingly digital, we are faced with the harsh reality of how our current economic models work. They are driven by data…data is information, and information is power.

Back in 2012, one of the first things I did when founding Meeco was write our Manifesto. I wanted something I could hold myself to account to. I wanted a beacon for those days when decisions are hard to make. But most of all, I wanted to capture the essence of what I believe will be the challenge of this century.

Up until now the power to capture, analyse and profit from personal data has resided with business, government and social networks. What if you and I had the same power?                                 – Meeco Manifesto

What would a world look like that empowered a child through holding their personal information in trust, as an asset for their future? Key data like their medical, educational and financial records. Imagine if they grew up in a world where they could decide who has access, for how long and for what purpose. How might that shift the balance of power in their favour?

This is the century of the digital native. Their entire lives will be captured in some digital form. They will learn through doing in a virtual reality world. They will have multiple careers relying on reputation and networks to enable their next gig.  A recent study by  Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40% of American workers alone, would be independent contractors.

This is a generation that will rely on mirco transactions to ensure and insure their experiences and outcomes for the cars, houses and things they won’t own. Their fridge will order its own contents; their home thermostat will adjust based on the body it recognises. They will 3D print things in a day that used to take years to build. All the while data, habits, movements, sensors, feedback and decision enablement will pervade their lives.

According to a July 2015 survey by Moz and Fractl nearly two in three millennials block ads, including ads that are sometimes relevant. If 18 to 34 year olds are blocking digital content, then finding a more effective way to help them gain and generate value is vital.

US Millennial Internet Users Who Use Ad Blockers, July 2015 (% of respondents)

Power is shifting around us, through the things we use to the networks we join. Just as the power of computing has moved from the mainframe to the wrist, so will the flow of information move from the enterprise to the individual.  However, if we don’t engineer the means for individuals to generate value through these activities, then we are essentially enabling a new form of feudalism – a digital dark age.

To counter this, trust must be established. The shift from products and services to experiences and outcomes will require participation for customisation, opt-in and acceptance. Therefore we must provide the means for inclusion and reward for the generation that will herald this change.

If indeed the information they provide, together with context and intent, removes friction, enables the flow of information, limits risk and helps reduce cost, then they must receive value in return for the value they shape.

This positive upside could be a network effect enabled by the flow of information; a network built on trust and transparency, permission and consent.

Imagine if privacy wasn’t a debate for this generation, but instead it became a design feature and differentiator.

Imagine the power in that.


A shorter version of this blog post was originally written for the Privacy Unbound Journal, published by the iapp (International Association of Privacy Professionals). The request was to make it as technical or philosophical as I wanted.  I settled on philosophical as the discussion of generational empowerment and new business models is one we need to be having now.

I like to include the image or track that helped inspire the writing. For this post, the image is an iPhone 5 snapshot I took in 2013 near Buckingham Palace in London, the track is a remix of one of my favourite pieces of music; O Fortuna.

Carl Off composed the original score in 1935 and 1936, based on 24 poems from the medieval collection Camina Burana.  The first and last movements of the piece are called Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi (“Fortune, Empress of the World”) and start with the very well known O Fortuna.

This Soundcloud Koyunbaba Remix is a little more 21st Century….enjoy 🙂


  1. Kevin Cox

    Rather than use the emotive word Power why not use Choice. Power implies coercion. What we want is not the ability of telling others what to do but the Choice to cooperate and work with others.

    By giving individuals choice we get the same outcomes as you desire but it is not a struggle. It is a joint undertaking to advantage both parties.


    • Katryna Dow

      Hi Kevin, agree….wouldn’t choice be great? Power in this context is about empowerment, having the right to expect and receive more that the current model. Right now there is coercion, with a lack of parity towards the user/individual. We have a generation facing contracts of adhesion, that are binary and without choice. It’s either agree to onerous terms and conditions or not. When we consider the increase of robotics and the impact it will have on the work-force, combined with AI, this is a generation that will be forced to adapt in ways that go well beyond the challenges our generation has faced. They are inheriting our economic, environmental and social systems – none of which are working particularly well. Helping a new generation understand the power they have to demand change might be the legacy we can pass on? Change by its nature is disruptive. I believe there can be shared value and choice, but I don’t thing it will happen organically. KD


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