“The Sell Sider” is a column written for the sell side of the digital media community.
Today’s column is by Erik Matlick, CEO and founder at Bombora.
The problem with the current privacy discourse is that it treats consumers like small children who don’t or can’t understand the concept of a value exchange. Ad tech took advantage of a technical infrastructure that allowed for anonymous tracking of devices based on internet behavior and consumption patterns. This seemed a fair value exchange: anonymous data for unfettered access to content.
Recent moves by the browser platforms seem to suggest that this is all too complex for consumers to understand or they don’t want to adjust their browser settings so browsers will do it for them and turn off anonymous tracking. This significantly alters the value exchange between publishers and their audience, dealing the publisher a massive blow while taking away consumer autonomy.
After 25 years of the commercial internet, two things are clear: People understand the internet, and publishers must be paid for the services they provide. The best path forward isn’t to infantilize the consumer by deciding for them in the name of protection. It’s to let consumers choose the value exchange that they prefer.
Three simple payment choices
Consumer choice can be put into action through three payment options provided to an audience upon visiting a site:
- A paywall, where consumers pay for the content directly.
- Email registration, so the publisher knows who is consuming their content.
- A cookie turn-on primer, where a browser’s cookie status is determined during page load, and consumers are offered easy instructions on how to re-engage their cookie via a pop-up.
These three options are different forms of payment for the content. If a consumer is unwilling to pay for the content in one of these ways, the publisher shouldn’t provide access. Publishers aren’t nonprofits, after all.
If publishers offer these three options to consumers before those consumers gain access to content, we can put choice back in the hands of consumers.
Does the internet oligarchy benefit from privacy paranoia?
Fundamentally, an anonymous cookie for content is a fair value exchange. Publishers receive no PII this way, unless the consumer actively chooses to provide that information.
If a consumer buys a car, both the bank and the car manufacturer sell that consumer’s personal data, such as name, address, email address, phone number, purchase price and more, resulting in offers flooding physical and digital mailboxes from every aftermarket car product on the planet. This practice is widely seen as legitimate by the aforementioned governments, tech companies and media organizations that are running scared from anonymous cookies. It makes you wonder if we’ve lost perspective here.
It helps to look at who benefits from the current rhetoric. Amid the enacted and proposed changes to data collection, huge corporations like Google, Amazon, Facebook and even Apple can keep collecting and using PII for all kinds of use cases (yes, Apple indeed uses data collected from its devices for marketing). These companies are not free from public and government scrutiny, but they are nowhere near as maligned as anonymous third-party cookies are at this current moment.
Consumers can easily understand a value exchange. But ideally, they should also be aware of the competitive dynamics at play between Apple, Google and the rest, and how privacy features are also a step towards the endgame of proprietary walled gardens for these titans.
These companies are worried about protecting revenue, not consumers. If Apple really cared about privacy, it would go much further than Safari’s ITP and completely stop tracking everything users do on its devices.
We’re unlikely to see the end of this corporate warfare, but hopefully the ad industry can agree that the battle should be fought elsewhere, sparing publisher revenue from becoming collateral damage. There’s an easy way to prevent this: Let consumers choose what they feel is a fair value exchange for them.