Profitable privacy, Waitrose and funding charities

The recent lecture by Dr. Ian Brown at the Oxford London Lecture and the debate with the panel afterwards contained many references to the price or costs of privacy. It seems that a certain financial value was assigned to privacy in the context of online digital technology. The final statements of the panel members further confirmed this by expressing their hope that one day people will own their online identity and be able to trade it based on their own considerations.

Privacy becoming profitable is something alluded to by Daniel Lyons in a Newsweek article titled “How Google & Facebook Violate Your Privacy”. The article suggests that privacy is becoming the new online currency, asserting that consumers trade their privacy for services from companies such as Google and Facebook. I think the problem is that the average consumer does not know the value of the data and often is not aware of what information exactly is traded. It is similar to the Waitrose card, in exchange for data on your spending behaviour, you receive additional discounts. I am only convinced that the majority of consumers do not realise how little discount they receive in comparison to the added value Waitrose gains from the data.

As consumers en masse join these supermarket client card schemes, without much consideration for the profitability of their privacy, there is a potential for corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social good. What if supermarkets give consumers a choice what to do with the financial value of the discounts? Imagine if consumers could determine how much of the discount gained from trading their privacy is directly donated to a charity of their choice. As part of their CSR strategy Waitrose could facilitate this by providing the necessary options in the online consumer profiles and by transferring the money directly to the charity. Simultaneously, the consumer can wallow in their contribution to society at every beep of the scanner.

Now it is just waiting for Waitrose to contact me.

The ICAI ‘traffic light’ seems broken.

According to a review by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) the UK humanitarian aid response to typhoon Haiyan corresponds with green. What indicates that ICAI thinks that “the programme meets all or almost all of the criteria for effectiveness and value for money and is performing strongly.” Wonderful, as this must indicate that the combined effort of DFID, MOD, UN agencies and charities in the Philippines was effective, efficient and had an proper positive impact on those affected by typhoon Haiyan. Or is the ‘traffic light’ not as green as portrayed by the review and reported by the Guardian?

The ICAI uses a ‘traffic light’ system in their reviews to score the aid effort of the UK government. The Rapid Review, not full ICAI review, of the effort in the Philippines aimed to “undertake a timely assessment of the impact and effectiveness” with a “beneficiary-centric view of the support.” In the terms of reference for the review the ICAI raises concerns, such as the “short notice and a tight review timeline” with only a week to visit the Philippines. In the Rapid Review itself ICAI clarifies that the restricted scope did not allow to “validate the precise numbers” [p14] or “identify loss, wastage or fraud.” [p11] Despite of this, it seems that ICAI felt confident that the value of the review was sufficient to justify the highest score of green.

I am not able to judge if the UK humanitarian response to typhoon Haiyan deserves green or not, but I seriously doubt the value of the ICAI Rapid Review. I think that with an average of visiting 6 sites per day [annex A6], spread over at least 5 islands [annex A3] in an disaster stricken area it leaves little time for the ICAI review team to talk to the estimated 215 beneficiaries [annex A6]. Regardless of the time spend with these beneficiaries, it is probably a questionable sample size, as the 215 only represent 0.0215% of the 1 million that received direct support from DFID [p1] and less than 0.0016% of the total affected population [p2]. Aside from this the funding overview in annex A1 leaves over £7.5 million (>12% of total) without proper allocation.

How does the ‘traffic light’ turn to green amid all the constraints recognised by the ICAI themselves and the questionable value of the information? I think the ‘traffic light’ is broken as it jumped to easily to green in this case. Something that should have been recognised by not only the ICAI, but also the Guardian. The publication and unbridled media attention allows people such as Justine Greening to colour the UK humanitarian aid efforts a little bit too rosy. It leaves the general public who pays for the effort, with a false impression of what is achieved with their money.