CEO Governance . . .

It wouldn’t be fair to let this slide after discussing Google in earlier posts. . .

With a hard to misunderstand title, Is Your Videogame Machine Watching You, the Wall Street Journal, quoted Dennis Durkin, chief operating officer and chief financial officer for Microsoft’s Xbox video game business at a conference put on by BMO Capital Markets. I quote below from the transcript of the comments made at the conference:

DENNIS DURKIN:  Yes.  I think it’s a combination, to be honest with you.  I think what we’ve found is, the core gamer may have been the person who brought the box into the house.  But as you add new experiences, and broader content choices for other members of the house, they come and use the system.  So, we can track some of that usage in terms of how it relates to broader audience, or broader family members participating in that.  It’s hard to track, though, because in a controller-based world where we don’t know much about your customer, it’s hard to know exactly who is watching.

Kinect actually brings a really interesting opportunity as it relates to that, because obviously with Kinect, when you stand in front of it, it has facial recognition, voice recognition.  We can cater what content gets presented to you based on who you are.  So, your wife in the future may get a different set of content choices than you, because we have a smart device that knows that your preferences are different than hers.

And over time that will help us be more targeted about what content choices we present, what advertising we present, how we get better feedback.  And data about how many people are in a room when an advertisement is shown, how many people are in a room when a game is being played, how are those people engaged with the game?  How are they engaged with a sporting event?  Are they standing up?  Are they excited?  Are they wearing Seahawks jerseys?  Are they wearing Giants jerseys?  After last weekend, I’m sure they’re wearing Giants jerseys.  But those are the kind of things that when you add this new sensor into the equation, there’s a bunch of business opportunities that also come with that.

Let’s look at a comment on the Wall Street Journal article:

A very dangerous big step forward in home surveillance. Today a Microsoft toy, tomorrow a government information gathering tool. As a toy it will accustom people to having a surveillance camera in their homes who is at the other end of it is anybodies guess as it goes out on the web data miners, police, government, your neighbors? If you are on a cable, phone line (cell or land) or use a wireless router it will be publicly accessible.

Whats that you say, you can turn it off ? That’s what you thought about your cell phone and your wrong, it can be activated as a listening device and is commonly used as a tracking device by police and alphabet agency’s.

Sounds fantastic but Orwells 1984 did too in it’s day, and today public surveillance is an accepted part of everyday life. Critics of public surveillance say it does nothing to lower crime rates or deter crime statistics bear this out why then is it continuing to be installed. This need to watch the public may well be the means to an end an end in the wrong hands that could be disastrous to democracy.

Why are we inviting an Orwellian future?

What’s the problem here? There are two I see immediately.

(1) CEOs and all senior management, need to be thinking privacy. Yes, I know they are busy, but this is a prime example of what happens when senior management is not privacy conversant. You probably remember Ellison’s and Zuckerberg’s comments on privacy and the furor those comments created. A CEO conversant in privacy should know better. It is both his/her responsibility to educate themselves on aspects of their business may play in the privacy arena and also of those who work for him/her, which leads me to my second point . . .

(2) Governance (anyone who reads this blog knew that was coming) may have prevented this. As a privacy professional, I have ruminated (privately) on some of the privacy implications for the Kinect (by the way, it IS very cool). This guy should have been better prepped by his PR / Corporate Affairs people. It should have been on their checklist. As a privacy professional, it behooves you to be in regular contact with your PR / Corporate Affairs departments. How regular your contact is will vary by industry (if you make microwave ovens, you may not need to meet with them on a monthly basis), but if you work in a field where personal data is a constant issue (gee, do you think Microsoft’s industry qualifies), then you need to have strong relationship with them. You should easily be able to demonstrate value by pointing to gaffes like this one that result in bad press and also how these incidents can hamper sales goals. (If this story gets legs, will it impact sales???)

On another note, this is a great way to get visibility within your organization. Put a memo together illustrating the pitfalls of public gaffes on privacy, and, just as important, how they can avoid it. Senior managers like it when you keep them out of trouble.

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