PIPEDREAMS: It's a private affair

PIPEDREAMS: It's a private affair

Almost every day of every week of our lives we give out private information about ourselves. Often inadvertently. Never imagining it could be pooled, collected, analysed and used in a sales pitch to us.

From a personal perspective, this may not always bring us the greatest joy. But from a business perspective it could mean sales, it could mean helping one to service one's customers better, and building stronger relationships with clients as a result.

In channel-land, privacy issues are nothing new.

They might not be of the ‘oh my, there's a camera in the bathroom' variety, as seen on some of our more intrusive real-life TV shows, but they're privacy concerns nevertheless.

There's the privacy of information channel companies hold about their customers. Or the privacy of information within these channel organisations about what makes the customer tick. Then you can add to the equation information the channel exchanges with its partners.

The fact this information resides on systems around Australia is not a problem in itself. But when it does get hairy is when the information falls into the wrong hands - either accidentally or through, for wont of a better phrase, ‘industrial espionage'. It all sounds a bit conspiratorial, doesn't it?

Yet people have always been anxious about both their personal and company's privacy. It's only natural as they envisage all the possible scenarios of their private information seeping into the public domain, or into the hands of their competitors. Hence the interest in IT security.

With new private sector privacy legislation coming into effect later this year, tighter restrictions around privacy are likely to be established, and some channel companies could be in for a bit of a shock.

The Privacy Act means organisations are going to have to be more vigilant about the information they hold, and how they exchange these details, and they're going to have to make darned sure no-one else gains access to it, accidentally or otherwise.

Late last year a statement from Federal Privacy Commissioner Malcolm Crompton touted the newly strengthened Privacy Act as delivering "a clear message to private sector organisations that it's time to adopt practices that protect the personal information of Australians".

That's very noble of him. But for all those Australian companies, either working in the channel or otherwise, which hold information on customers and potential customers, it could lead to a very large headache.

Crompton says the Privacy Act will give Australians greater control over the use of their personal information when they deal with government, business and other private sector organisations.

That may well be true, as undoubtedly is the proposition that these people have the right to know, and control, how details about them are used. But, on a practical level, these legislative changes are going to effect the way channel companies do business.

At the end of the day it's going to be a matter of adjusting to new ways of doing things. And the flip side could be opportunities for channel companies, helping their customers put systems in place that ensure information is handled properly. Maybe every cloud does have a silver lining after all.

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