“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 Sol Ross, managing director at LiveRamp.
More than a year into the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), its strengths and weaknesses continue to be evaluated. While the law is designed to protect consumer interests and privacy, many feared GDPR could ultimately benefit large tech companies, especially Facebook and Google.
As state-level data privacy legislation like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is enacted in the United States, these perceived benefits increasingly worry the rest of the ad tech ecosystem.
Since consent for data collection and data use is at the heart of GDPR, popular opinion suggests the direct relationships Facebook and Google have with consumers would give them a competitive advantage over the long term. Users must either consent or lose access to services they now rely on for everything from social interaction to business needs.
Google and Facebook also have the resources – people and money – to build new privacy tools and staff up legal departments to shape and react to regulation faster than anyone. Their scale and size give them an outsize share of voice in educating lawmakers about what legislation should or should not include.
But all players in the space, including marketers, tech companies, agencies and publishers, should proactively lend their voices to the conversation and advocate for neutrality in any data privacy regulation proposal. It is time to underscore the importance of industrywide activism to preserve consumer privacy and access to the content and services they have grown to expect, want and need. While CCPA is still in its pre-implementation stage and federal lawmakers await its impact before drafting a national privacy bill, it’s time to act.
What companies can do
There are several ways in which digital advertising companies can lean into the discussions, educate and mobilize.
Do the research: Based on companies’ geographic footprint, they must research how local elected officials can best serve them. Does data privacy fall under local officials’ assignments or jurisdictions? Examine lawmakers’ stated priorities, which are all publicly available on individual websites, and use that to inform any conversations with them.
Develop relationships: Get to know the staff members who work on particular issues for local officials. Remember, you are their constituent. They need constituents to inform them about how policies they enact affect businesses and how that in turn affects communities. (We employ X people, which in turn generates $X in tax revenue, for example.) Companies should push for consistent communication and set aside a dedicated time to discuss balanced data privacy regulations and how mindful crafting of policy can be beneficial to both businesses and consumers at large.
Before the meeting, it’s wise to get familiar with everyone whom companies will be speaking to, understand their personal background and their stance on privacy. After the meeting, companies should send a thank you note with next steps and follow through with any actions discussed.
It’s even better to leave every meeting with a reason to reconnect with the official. For example, a company might offer to host a seminar on an issue its local lawmaker is passionate about and invite them as a guest speaker. Government schedules are always in flux, with votes called and issues unexpectedly flaring up, so be patient.
Know your agenda: Getting a message across requires preparation, a clear picture of company goals and an understanding of the current status of issues and potential outcomes. Companies must understand how pending data privacy legislation will impact them and other constituents, both negatively and positively. It’s important to understand where the law is in legislative process – are lawmakers still forming opinions about the best course of action? Companies in digital advertising and ad tech are uniquely positioned to help lawmakers more fully comprehend complex issues.
Use the right messenger: The company’s message is best delivered by a local constituent. An employee talking to a lawmaker about how a piece of legislation will impact them and their community is generally more authentic and persuasive. Consultants are needed and helpful for strategy and logistics, but the people who do the work are the best messengers. Companies can always prepare them ahead of time, once they know their agendas.
Why get involved?
Not only will the industry feel the effects of CCPA and other data privacy legislation, but consumers will too. Any laws that allow for the consolidation of power and the monopolization of digital data will hurt consumers and the industry at large.
Privacy laws may exasperate inequality in the advertising landscape, as large tech companies make consequential changes to their platforms, citing privacy concerns, that stifle competition. Informed activism by other players can impart much-needed balance in the ecosystem.
Legislation takes time to develop and pass, which means there are many opportunities leading up to a vote to advocate for thoughtful laws that can adapt to new marketplaces and technologies. There is no better time than now to join the policy discussion before laws around the country are passed and enforced. This is where we as an industry must have a collective impact.