My wife and I were in the mall the other day, and I was looking for a new pair of jeans.
I walked into Banana Republic and a perky sales clerk immediately greeted me by name. “Welcome back to Banana Republic, Charles. Last time you were here, you were looking for dark blue jeans. I’ll show you those.” She walked me over to the jeans section and watched as I browsed.
I started thinking this was a little creepy, so I suggested we leave. Walking through the mall, my wife said, “You have a lot of dark blue. Why don’t you look for some lighter blue jeans?” We talked about this for a minute, then walked in to J. Crew.
“Hi, Mr. Gold. Welcome to J. Crew. We have some fantastic light blue jeans on a 30% off sale. Just follow me and I’ll show you.”
OK. Now this is getting really weird. How the hell did they know that? Time to leave.
As we walked, we talked about our upcoming trip to the Caribbean. It’s going to be awesome to be somewhere warm where we can go swimming.
We stopped at Macy’s. No sooner were we in the door than a guy in a Hawaiian shirt approached us. “You should see our bathing suits. They’re perfect for winter vacations.”
Of course, none of this actually happened in the mall. But it happens to all of us every day when we’re online. And generally, it’s benign – sometimes it’s even valuable to me.
But frankly, I’m not crazy about the idea of anyone watching me, or listening to my email conversations. Not that I have much to hide – I’m 45, married with kids, and live in suburbia. Pretty standard stuff.
But my conversations are mine. When I talk to a friend or business associate, I expect these conversations to be between us. When you send email, you mostly give up this expectation. And for 90% of emails, this doesn’t matter. But sometimes it does. Sometimes you want to ensure your private communications stay private – not read by anyone but the intended recipient. Generally speaking, ensuring this type of privacy has been pretty difficult up until now.
For the last several months, I’ve served as a strategic advisor to Virtru, a digital privacy company. Their service (now in private beta), lets its users send secure messages and control who can read them. They also add privacy features like the ability to revoke or expire messages secured and sent with Virtru. And the amazing thing is that they’ve made this work within everyday tools like Gmail, and Outlook. They’ve also got a pretty nifty iPhone app.
Over time, users will become more privacy-savvy. And they will demand an answer to the false tradeoff between privacy and convenience – they will want easy-to-use services to communicate securely.
I think Virtru is tapping in to a huge unmet need – simple email privacy.