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Privacy Is An Opportunity, Not A Burden


privacytrustTransparency could be a way for brands to differentiate.

Because building trust with consumers is about more than telling them why your brand is great and expecting them to just believe it.

“Trust is earned in drops, but lost by the bucketful,” said Forrester principal analyst Fatemeh Khatibloo at Forrester’s Marketing Forum on Wednesday in New York City. “Transparency isn’t something we talked about in the context of customer relationships even 10 years ago, but the world has changed, and now the customer expects us to be transparent about the things that we care about.”

Things like privacy and data collection practices, for example.

The stats, however, paint a murky picture. Consumers, who often don’t read or understand privacy policies, expect their privacy to be respected. And brands have to roll with the punches.

The majority of consumers (91%) either agree or strongly agree that they’ve lost control of how personal information is collected and used by companies, according to a January report from the Pew Research Center.

At the same time, almost half of consumers (47%) are OK with providing PII as part of a value exchange with brands, while more than half of consumers (52%) incorrectly believe that the point of privacy policies is to ensure the confidentiality of their personal information, as per two other Pew studies.

There seems to be inconsistency between what consumers say they want, what they think (which is often inaccurate) and what they’re actually cool with.

Which is why clarity and repetition are key when it comes to privacy, said Buckley Slender-White, head of marketing at Automatic Labs, a tech startup that uses software to let users track everything happening inside their car, from fuel expenses and miles driven to service information and how well the engine is performing.

“One of the first things our founder did was sit down and write a privacy policy, but rather than calling in a lawyer, he wrote down a few principles,” Slender-White said.

Among them is the clearly stated fact that Automatic doesn’t sell user data or run ads against it.


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“The data is yours,” Slender-White said. “It doesn’t belong to us at all. We are merely custodians of it for you and if there is anything we want to do with that data, we ask you first. That’s the reverse of the wider web and Internet of Things, where it’s more, ‘We’ll do everything with your data and maybe we’ll let you opt out of some of it.’”

Automatic Labs approaches the notice and choice issue by constantly explaining and reiterating exactly what it’s doing with its user data and why.

Users have to opt in and authorize the transaction each time they want to grant a third party or service – Nest, for example, or an insurance company – access to their data. Being required to make the decision afresh each time keeps consumers actively involved in what’s happening with their personal information.

“It becomes a repetitive process to instill our brand value in their mind,” Slender-White said. “[We see it as] an opportunity, not a burden.”

It’s better to ask than to run afoul, Khatibloo said.

“We tend to be worried as marketers about asking consumers to tick the box too many times,” she said. “But I like it as a way to reinforce brand values.”

It’s questionable, though, how realistic that would be if implemented at scale. If every brand asked for permission every time it wanted to do something – especially as the number of IoT devices continues to grow – consumers would be driven batty in short order.

Perhaps a cross-device opt-out, like the one called for by the Federal Trade Commission, is a way forward.

It’s also a little more complicated for companies that don’t have direct consumer relationships, which is usually the case in the ad tech space where consumers are generally opted in to be tracked by default.

And then there are the publishers often stuck in the middle.

Premium publishers “have a direct relationship with the consumer – they’re not advertising technology companies,” said Jason Kint, CEO of publisher trade org Digital Content Next. “They interface with the consumer every day, and whether or not they’re able to get attention or sell that attention to advertisers is based on trust.”

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