California State University Northridge Jerome Richfield Scholar Award Presentation

Introduction of Award Recipient, Associate Professor Kristen Walker, PhD
CSUN Department of Marketing

By Beth Givens, Executive Director, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

April 5, 2016

I’m honored to be invited to introduce Associate Professor Kristen Walker, the recipient of the Jerome Richfield Scholar award. I’ve also been invited to say a few words about consumer privacy.

I’m always pleased when I read privacy-related academic research that clearly explains what is happening to consumers in the marketplace. And I’m particularly thrilled with Kristen’s paper, titled Surrendering Information through the Looking Glass: Transparency, Trust, and Protection.

Congratulations on receiving this prestigious award, Kristen, and for having your paper published in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing in May. It’s a great addition to the world of privacy-related scholarly research.

[To view the presentations by both Beth Givens and Kristen Walker, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=469kwy77PvY&feature=youtu.be (1:16 hr.)]

I’m not going to steal Kristen’s thunder and talk about her research – at least, not in depth. But I will say that her concept of SURRENDERING TO TECHNOLOGY and her 4-part SHARING / SURRENDERING matrix are right on, based on what we at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse see every day in the complaints we receive from individuals throughout the U.S. 

Let me give you just a couple examples of the kinds of complaints we receive. I’m focusing on data brokers which has consistently been among the top complaint categories in our hotline. There’s a transparency tie-in with these examples – a key aspect of Kristin’s research.

  • A law enforcement officer on gang detail in an eastern state found her name and address on several data broker websites. She contacted us asking if there is one-stop shopping for opting out for all data brokers at once, rather than contacting each one.  For obvious reasons she wanted to remove her name and address from the many data broker websites she saw listed on our website and was clearly dismayed when we told her there is no central opt out. She was even more disturbed to learn that our list of data brokers is by no means complete -- even though our list numbers about 300 data brokers.
  • This next example is from a stalking victim:  She said: “I recently ran my name in Google and was mortified to discover over 15 sites had my personal information. After hours, days and weeks, I've finally managed to have my name removed from all the sites except one. This company refuses to remove my information claiming to do so would compromise the integrity of their website. I'm at a loss as to how to proceed with this. Please help.”

By the way, most of our complaints about data brokers are not sent to us by individuals whose personal safety is at risk. Most are individuals from all walks of life who simply want to be able to actively limit their personal information from public view. Kristen describes this as “conditional share.”

A definition of privacy that we at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse like to use was expressed by an early privacy scholar Alan Westin, going all the way back to his seminal work Privacy and Freedom, published in 1967.  Sadly, this privacy pioneer passed in 2013.

Westin wrote:      

Privacy is the claim of individuals… to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.

Central to Westin’s definition is the control of one’s personal information. Of course, you can’t control what is invisible to you. And you certainly can’t control your own personal information if there are few mechanisms in the marketplace enabling you to do so. Unfortunately, that’s largely the reality of the marketplace today for consumers.  Again, hearkening to Kristen’s research – Transparency is central to a fair marketplace.

Those who want to protect their privacy are in for a challenge. Our website contains hundreds of tips on steps you can take to protect your privacy.  I’m fond of saying that being your own privacy manager is virtually a full-time job. Kristen discusses consumers’ experiences of information overload and lacking the necessary time and attention to effectively take on the challenge of protecting their privacy. Based on our experience in troubleshooting consumers’ complaints, I would concur.

But even if you were to succeed in taking all these steps by minimizing the amount of information available to companies and opting out of the sharing of your personal information whenever you can – you would still be up against a public policy environment that is less than ideal.

The U.S. is said to have a patchwork of privacy laws.  We have laws that address specific sectors and practices, such as credit reporting, telemarketing, medical records, the online collection of children’s information, financial privacy, and employment background checks, among others.

But there is no over-arching, or omnibus, privacy law here, in contrast to the European Union, Canada, and nearly all other developed nations as well as many less developed nations around the globe.    So, many, if not most, of the complaints brought to us by consumers are not covered by law – a prime example being data brokers. 

I’ve taken you on a tour of some of the challenges consumers face in attempting to protect their own privacy as a preface to the reason you are all here    – and that is to honor this year’s recipient of the California State University Northridge Jerome Richfield Scholar award.

It is my pleasure to introduce Kristen Walker, Associate Professor in the Department of Marketing. In her research and her teaching, Kristen explores the intersection of marketing, public policy, and technology. Her interests are extensive and include interactive marketing, social media, digital activism, retail environments, music industry marketing, corporate responsibility, data-rich environments, and Internet privacy.

Kristen teaches a relatively new marketing elective called Consumer Information in the Digital Age. She also designed the Interactive Marketing Minor at CSUN. And, as if this were not enough, she and a colleague are currently focusing on vulnerabilities facing pre-teens with social media adoption and use. This research is funded by a grant from the Digital Trust Foundation.  It involves working with her students to develop social marketing campaigns to help educate both pre-teens and those that influence and enable their online behavior.

The research that is at the heart of her award today will be published in the May 2016 issue of the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.   It examines online exchanges of personal information, and it challenges traditional notions of trust and transparency that are used by government regulators and marketers in addressing consumer privacy and consumer protection. 

Please join me in welcoming Kristen Walker.