Data is often the lifeblood of technology in the real estate industry, sometimes confronting executives, agents and programmers with privacy-related ethical dilemmas.
For example, take “lead bombing,” a practice that can involve targeting prospective clients based on data that suggests they are going through life-changing events, said real estate software executive and blogger Greg Robertson at Inman Connect New York this morning.
Should agents be mailing post cards to a couple that just divorced, or calling a son after his mom dies, or knocking on the door of someone who’s late on their mortgage?
To offer some guidance that industry professionals could use to navigate such issues, Darrell Porcher, who helps head up data protection and compliance in Google’s cloud-based applications department, laid out some of Google’s techniques for trying to protect users’ privacy.
One takeaway is that doing a good job takes serious commitment and resources — luxuries many startups or agents might not have. Nonetheless, here are nine of Google’s privacy protection practices.
1. Anonymize data
This is a must for protecting users’ privacy, Porcher said.
2. Focus on the user
Put users’ interests at the heart of your product design and appropriate privacy features should naturally follow. For Google, that includes having users test products at their offices and in their homes.
3. Give users control over their data
“We give people control of that data whenever they need to see it or have access to it,” allowing people to, for example, block Google from receiving their location data or preferences. Users can also adjust somewhat the sort of ads they see.
4. Be transparent
For people to exercise control over their data, they should be aware of how it’s being used. To that end, Google maintains a privacy informational page (visited 500 million times last year) where users can educate themselves.
It also takes a proactive approach by periodically prompting users to take a tour of Google’s privacy setting controls, such as by sending reminder emails.
“We want to make sure we’re getting people full disclosures as to how that data’s actually being accessed,” Porcher said.
5. Have a privacy team
This might not be possible for a lean startup, but when the resources become available, tech entrepreneurs might be well-advised to hire employees dedicated to thinking about users’ privacy needs. Google has a huge privacy team.
6. Limit employees’ access to users’ data
Anonymizing data can help with this, but it’s also important to think about how to build in other safeguards that can prevent employees from potentially abusing users’ privacy.
7. Put on privacy trainings
“We have mandatory training on privacy and controls,” Porcher said. “Bad actors are getting savvy.”
8. Have rigorous debate
“I can say without question daily that these are things we think about and we debate rigorously,” he said.
9. ‘Fess up to mistakes
“If we stick to those principles, we typically do the right thing,” he said about the rules of thumb he explained in his presentation.
But if Google inadvertently crosses a line, it may end up violating users’ trust, so it’s best to be open about any mistakes made, he said.
“We also make sure that we’re transparent about [problematic] things that happen,” he said.