Got It Wrong #1: Privacy
I’m going to start a new series of posts on this blog. All my favorite VCs in the industry are generally pretty humble and intellectually honest. In that spirit I’m going to recall a few occasions over the past few years working in VC, where I was quite wrong (and, hopefully, what I learned since then).
Today’s “Got It Wrong” post is on privacy. When I first joined Union Square Ventures I was adament about protecting user privacy. I was a user of tools like AdBlock Plus (to protect both privacy and attention), and I cleared my cookies with reasonable regularity. I was picky about the companies with whom I trusted to handle my data. I ran system-wide searches for my own credit card info, lest it be stored in an autofill field.
All of those behaviors are subject to the eye of the beholder… to some they’re good hygiene and to others they’re over the top.
But, where I “Got It Wrong” regarding privacy was assuming that other users felt similarly to me. I didn’t think users were as proactive as I was about privacy hygiene, but I did think they had similar instincts. Watching companies like Mint bloom with a mainstream audience was informative. You have to enter your username and password for your credit card just to get started, talk about a high barrier to entry, and yet lots of people did so readily.
Also the growth of companies like Loopt (and later foursquare) and even Twitter was really interesting. Unlike with Facebook, in those services, egocasting was the default mode of usage and default to public. An older version of me would have been reticent to embrace Twitter when it first came out, but after a few months of diving into 5 new web services a day in deal-sourcing, I was already starting to evolve my stance on privacy and thus was quick to dive in.
I won’t go so far to say that users don’t care about privacy at all. The success of companies like Lifelock are evidence of the fact that users are concerned about the security of their personal information. But, it’s remarkable what data people will willingly hand over when asked nicely, and it seems to me that privacy concerns are rarely the friction to adoption I expect they would be.