Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Branding and Privacy

-- By AustinLeach - 01 Mar 2012


Corporate marketing and branding have always sought to change how consumers view a corporation and its products, but the relationship between the consumer and the corporation is dangerously one-sided in the digital age. Consumers subconsciously believe they need Apple, Facebook, and Google, more than those companies need the consumer. With one hand, these companies in the digital services sector stroke the public consumer, while stealing our private files and information with the other. What will awaken the complacent consumer?


In order to understand how consumers may be made to think outside of the digital box Google, Facebook, and Apple have put us in, it is crucial in first understanding how we were lured into complacency.

The Apple Story

Although Apple would most likely argue that “innovation” drives consumers to purchase its products, it is actually Apple’s unparalleled product strategy and branding that drives its success. By implementing a digital hub strategy, Apple devices and software—the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, Safari, Siri, apps, televisions, computer accessories, cameras, games, etc.—all connect to Apple computers and laptops with ease. Apple later harmonized this user experience across all of its devices using its iCloud as the hub, storing consumers’ private files and information on Apple’s servers.

Apple’s digital hub is combined with its branding strategy. In 2010, Apple spent $691 million on advertisements aimed at developing consumer goodwill. Early iPod posters depicted “cool” silhouettes in dynamic poses that contrast with the white iPod (for a company that claimed to promote the individual “I” in its products, it has surely come to view its consumers as faceless shadows behind its product). As a result, Apple products scream “social status symbol,” and the company can charge high premiums.

Without a doubt, Apple has created some truly cutting-edge products, but at what cost? The consumers crave these devices and are willing to line up—even mob Apple stores—in the thousands to purchase a marginally upgraded product bearing the Apple logo. They want to be part of something larger than themselves, they want a bite at the cultural phenomenon of Apple. As a result, Apple is also becoming ubiquitous in American homes.

A Bit on Facebook

Facebook’s market strategy originally built itself by being an exclusive status symbol too. Harvard students gravitated toward Facebook because it was exclusive to Hahvahd. Stanford students later signed onto Facebook because it was exclusive to Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and Yale. The University of Kentucky students joined Facebook because their friends from other schools were on it, and only America’s undergraduate institutions had access to it through a .edu web address.

However, as Facebook became more popular, the brand strategy changed from one of exclusivity to one of inclusivity. Facebook’s brand is now based on its users. People and institutions sign up for and remain on Facebook because their friends, family, students, coworkers, fans, consumer base, etc. all have accounts. Just like Apple consumers, Facebook users believe they need Facebook in order to stay in contact with friends. Users believe they need Facebook more than Facebook needs the user. As a result, Facebook is becoming ubiquitous both in homes, and on the net.

As analyses of brands, it seems to me there's less here than meets the eye. Mr Jobs had a particular approach, which was not only embodied in Apple, but also in NeXT? , all the way along. The "1984" ad; "think different," with its appropriation of dead non-conformist intellectuals; the faceless iPod customers; the design of the stores--all were intended to achieve a particular "political" outcome: the absolute empowerment of the invisible architect, creating the illusion of freedom in a horde of cultists. They all, particularly the "1984" ad, built the brand on the irony of conformist non-conformism. That plus "cool technology for tech dummies," and "artists' tools made by the Artist" were the architectural elements of the brand.

Facebook's brand, on the other hand, is supposed to be transparent facing the victim: Facebook's face is the face of your friends. A man in the middle attack works by making the man in the middle invisible. Facing the investor, Facebook's brand is "we're spying on everybody." Which is a variant of the original Zuckerberg message to undergraduates: "we know everyone you want to fuck better than you do."

Convenience Over Privacy

The Problem

Ever since cavemen learned to hunt in groups instead of individually hunting, humans have valued convenience over privacy.

I'm not sure those are the tradeoffs involved in hunting. Maybe there's another way to say what you need to say here. If what you need to say is that this is a human universal rather than a cultural formation, I'm not persuaded by mere assertion, and it would be good to see some evidence. I find it difficult to believe, given that "privacy" and "convenience" are cultural formations, often absent, surely historically relatively recent in our societies, and therefore not the underlying terms in the universal.

We give up some privacy to have meaningful (or trivial) interactions with each other all the time. Yet at this time in the digital age, third party "net corporations"—those that provide products or services on or related to the internet—know and remember more about their consumers than ever before. The average consumer is, at best, unaware of the extent to which his privacy is being sacrificed and traded. At worst, he knows his privacy is compromised, yet he does nothing and remains complacent, choosing instead to enjoy the convenience of Facebook through Google’s Chrome on an iPad.

A Solution

Some state that privacy is dead, and perhaps it is at this very moment, but it doesn’t have to be. A number of factors must be met before consumers can reclaim (some of) their privacy.

First, consumers have to be educated as to the risks involved when they buy Apple products, post on Facebook, or run searches in Google. There’s no short supply of news stories and articles on the web regarding these net corporations, and that is surprising, given that the news media benefits from net corporations and social networking.

Second, and this is the hard part, there has to be some market alternative to the existing products and services. Legislation from tech savvy, benevolent politicians might be helpful in trying to pass stricter privacy laws, but special interest groups would certainly try to kill, dilute, and influence any legislation with bite. Likewise, the public cannot wait for favorable decisions from the Supreme Court justices, who for the foreseeable future, are less aware and less tech savvy than Congress. Market solutions in the form of competition from new companies seem to be the only potential way forward.

Third, and most importantly, the new competing companies must have superior marketing techniques. They will not be able to depend on the consumer to make an educated decision to leave Facebook for a more private alternative. Unfortunately, the consumer must be tricked into wanting privacy. He must believe that the alternative was marketed specifically for him, and once he is hooked, he must subconsciously believe he needs the alternative more than it needs him. Because he does.

In the end, this says that better privacy will have to be brought to the market for services, and that it will have to be sold as something other than privacy. Perhaps you mean it has to be more "convenient" than Facebook, or more "cool" than Apple. I can't quite tell. But the primary conclusion is that privacy can't be sold to consumers as privacy. Are you sure? I don't, after reading this essay, know why.


Webs Webs

r5 - 11 Jan 2013 - 21:48:49 - IanSullivan
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