Will Silicon Valley miss the privacy avalanche?

How central Silicon Valley is for new technology jumps out at you the most when you bump into tech entrepreneurs freshly arrived here from other parts of the globe. So excited they are, that they finally left behind the tech-know-nothings in their home towns and will now raise money and change the world, like all the other successful entrepreneurs in the Valley, and like they have dreamt about for years. After all, where else could FaceBook have happened, and Intel and Apple, and Google and Uber? Nobody like the extremely smart brains in Silicon Valley can spot the new opportunities and make a dent in the universe.

Will those extremely smart brains ever miss a gigantic one?

History is full of examples for smart, successful people who missed gigantic shifts. Blockbuster. Barnes and Noble. Nokia. What’s common among all of them is that they were widely successful in what they did, and how they did it, for a long time. They had learned to trust their own knowledge and intuition more than others, because that’s what got them where they got to, while everybody else did not. When the winds changed, they dismissed it and ignored it and doubled down, until it was too late and there was nothing left to double-down on.

If there is one commonly agreed-on theme in Silicon Valley today it is that data is the new oil, you must collect and grab as much as you can, privacy be damned, and through the magic of number crunching and machine learning, you will leave your competitors in the dust. There are of course good reasons for believing that, as this model has worked really well for companies that have practiced it in recent years.

But not so for their customers, and they know it. According to arecent Axios survey, 58% of US consumers agree with “The privacy threat is a crisis, and we need to force companies to change.” This particular statement is not exactly a vague desire. Threat. Crisis. Force. These are fighting words, and most Americans — people not usually very worried about that — agree with them. The attitude would certainly be even stronger in Europe.

I would say if 58% of your customers believe that you must be forced to change your behavior, and you dismiss it, as consensus in the valley does today, you are not just not paying attention, but you are in denial.

What an opportunity!

P.S. If you are interested in this, hang out with us on the #startups channel hosted by MyData.org, the global organization advocating for responsible use of personal data. People have started working on this: yes, many of them outside of the valley.