The precarious balance between privacy and convenience

The precarious balance between privacy and convenience

The right to not feel spied on, whether in your own home or digitally, is a significant fundamental right. Privacy extends beyond legislation. We not only need to look at what’s permitted but also at what we as a society consider desirable or not when it comes to how our data is used.

Although people tend to say they have nothing to hide, I believe that everyone has something they don’t want to be made public. If a stranger were to ask you where your children go to school and what time school is out, it would give you the creeps. That alone indicates that you don’t want to share all your information. Privacy also means that you’re free to make choices and not feel constrained by them. The more you’re spied on, watched and monitored, the more you’ll adjust your behaviour accordingly, and in essence, that leads to less freedom. That is one of the significant and serious risks that digitisation entails.

Orwell’s world is a reality

The debate around privacy strikes at the very heart of our society. George Orwell’s 1984, written shortly after the Second World War, describes a state in which the government monitors and controls every aspect of human life. Back then, that was science fiction, but in reality, we’ve now considerably surpassed this stage. Of course, the collection and analysis of data have also greatly benefitted society. Route planner services and the Dutch national railway’s Seat Finder app, which shows you where the best place to wait on the platform is to have the best chance of getting a seat on the train, are examples of these. Data can have a great deal of value, and we are—rightly—happy with that side of things.

Stricking a balance

I am in favour of discussing the ethical ramifications of this in society. Privacy and freedom of choice are incredibly good things for all of us, yet we are guided and influenced in all kinds of ways, and that limits our freedom. The legislation that flows from that actually demarcates what we find acceptable and what we don’t. But I think we should consider what is morally desirable. Whether or not something is forbidden by law should not be the only driver. It’s essential to strike the right balance in which the impact for people is in proportion to the benefits it brings. As an organisation, you need to keep asking yourself: Am I acting responsibly, and can I justify this?


What represents a balance can be different for everyone. Can you and do you dare to defend your point of view in such a case? I’m not in favour of doing everything possible with data, but I’m also not a puritan, either, because I see that we also benefit from data in pretty much everything we do every day. The need to protect data concerning ourselves is paramount because the digital world is becoming increasingly risky. Organisations love to collect data, but as a customer, I assume they’ll use that data for the purposes for which I provided it. And that doesn’t always turn out to be the case. It surprises me sometimes how naive people can be about this.

Maturity and transparency

Greater maturity and transparency about what they do and don’t use data for is needed from companies. It is precisely because there are so many social benefits to be gained from the processing of data that we need to have a public discussion about what we think responsible data use is. Such dialogues allow us to seek consensus and better determine where the balance lies between the collection and use of data and how this benefits people.

Read also:

Edwin Kusters

About us - Edwin Kusters | Viacryp

In his role as a data and privacy consultant, Edwin has mainly been involved in large BI projects for the past eighteen years. He increasingly noticed that clients had certain customer analysis requirements which were in conflict with the Dutch Data Protection Act (a forerunner to the GDPR). As a result, he went in search of a solution that would still make carrying out such analyses possible. The entire playing field of the definition of the law was the starting point, but he also had to take into account such customer priorities as time-to-market, quality of service and compliance costs. The creation of a specific, separate company, today known as Viacryp, proved to be the most effective solution for clients when it comes to navigating this complex world. Edwin regularly speaks on privacy matters at seminars and congresses, and is a member of the NEN working group for the development of a pseudonymisation standard.