How Brands Can Solve Their Privacy Problem

shainaboone“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Shaina Boone, senior vice president of marketing science at Critical Mass.

Last month marked the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. Since then, the Internet has enabled unprecedented access to knowledge and unlimited potential for people to communicate across the globe.

Recent history, however, has shown that the Web’s immense possibility is not without peril. Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations and highly publicized data breaches involving brands such as Target and Neiman Marcus have fuel public skepticism and downright distrust of not only the government, but also major digital players in the industry, including Google and Facebook.

All of this necessitates a more urgent conversation between brands and consumers to clarify what is actually being collected and why and how it can be used for the good of the user, such as enhancing the online experience, rather than solely being perceived as a sinister invasion of privacy.

Brand Transparency: Building A Foundation Of Trust

The foundation of privacy is trust. Brands and their agencies have, thus far, done a poor job at educating consumers. It is our responsibility to change that by tossing out old, legalese-laden privacy policies in favor of more prominent, easy-to-understand ones that tell the consumer what data we are using, and the steps we’re taking to protect that data and keep it anonymous.

Most importantly, we need to communicate how the data enables better and smarter experiences for them. By doing so, we can build an implicit level of trust between brands and consumers, holding ourselves accountable while giving consumers the information to help serve as a watchdog over their own data.

Realistic Consumer Expectations 

In this always-on, connected world, consumers’ expectations of brands have never been higher. This is due, in large part, to the rise of big data as the ultimate tool to deliver personalized experiences to consumers.

Despite the general concerns about privacy and data collection, consumers must understand that there are trade-offs when it comes to brand experiences online. In order for brands to deliver experiences that are tailored to their customers’ needs and preferences, a certain amount of data – preferably not personally identifiable – must be shared in exchange. It is up to brands to communicate what kind of data is being collected and how it’s being used. Then it is the consumer’s choice to decide what data they want to share, in exchange for more or fewer services.

Privacy And The Future Of The Web

As the Internet evolves, and it continually will, privacy and security will live at the center of debate – fostering either its evolution or destruction. In support of the former, the NSA spying and resulting rational consumer fear have catalyzed a movement toward increased transparency and accountability on behalf of brands, as well as placed some responsibility on consumers themselves.

Through clear, upfront communication, our industry should provide transparency in what we are doing with consumers’ data. From an accountability perspective, brands and agencies together can take ownership of this message. Agencies can assist with the creative approach and technological implementation of the communication, while brands can facilitate content development working with their legal teams. It must be a joint effort between all parties to be successful.

Ultimately, communicating with transparency will deepen trust and build stronger relationships between brands and their customers, while hopefully alleviating the current privacy concerns about data collection.

Follow Shaina Boone (@shainaboone), Critical Mass (@criticalmass) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Shaina – great article, I absolutely agree that trust between all parties is integral to the future success of “the web,” and that Privacy is a big part of that trust. I would argue however, that the big piece left out of your overview are the publishers and (non-advertiser/brand) content producers.

    While on their devices the main relationships people have are with content publishers and applications and their developers – not the ads that surround these things or the companies behind those ads. Certainly brands must be simple and transparent as you say, but that message needs to be delivered directly and prominently and in partnership by the publishers and application developers/companies that people use every day. The OBA Compliance message, for example, is much better delivered via top-of-page disclaimer (as on, say) than in the small triangle icon on banners.

    Given the rise of 1st-party publisher data, these publishers and developers have a stake in this as well, but I believe it is up to the brands and agencies to bring the publishers and developers into the discussion as a crucial part of the consumer relationship, instead of letting them (hyperbole warning) unwittingly stand to the side as malicious brands plunder their innocent users of their data.