A Word about Data and Data Privacy

We marketers love data. It helps us find the audiences who most closely match with our product or service offerings. In theory, using data to target the right people saves time, saves money and provides customers with better experiences because they are getting information that is relevant to them instead of having anything and everything thrown at them.

But, using data means people must give up certain information about themselves, either willingly or by circumstance. Learning that Cambridge Analytica was able to access the data of 87 million people on Facebook and use it to manipulate their thinking is alarming. It feels like a huge breach of trust that has left each of us exposed.

This issue raises big questions for people:

  • Who owns MY data?
  • What can businesses do with MY personal data?
  • How can I keep MY data private?

Society somehow came to the conclusion that Internet usage was a private activity. Whether that is the right conclusion is debatable—are you entitled to privacy while using someone’s platform? If so, how much?

This issue seems new in the vast and fast-moving digital world, and looking at in the wake of this breach of trust, it’s easy to point the finger at Facebook. But it’s not really.

The truth is we lost control of “our data” a long time ago and we give it up with nearly every action we take throughout our day, not just when we use Facebook. When we use our credit cards, when we sign up for an event, when we search for information on the Internet or use any social media site and when we own a cell phone and take it with us wherever we go, we’re giving companies information on our behavior.

Magazines and media companies sell subscribers’ names, addresses, email addresses to list brokers who in turn sell them to marketers based on interest or other of a thousand criteria in order for marketers to send mail or other messages and have done so for decades. Retailers study our behavior in stores in order to determine product placement and improve customer experience.  

So what responsibility to do marketers have when it comes to data privacy?

I think the first step is for marketers and media and technology companies to create processes that protect the data we collect and the second step is to be more transparent with consumers as well as give them options to say no. There’s room for smart regulation as well that would help guide the digital marketing industry as well protect consumers, but it needs to be well thought out by people who understand all of technologies complexities.

In a recent Ad Age article, the Association of National Advertisers said, “that the whole ad ecosystem should “systematically ‘report back’ to consumers what advertisers know and what choices consumers have to protect their privacy.”

What are your thoughts on data privacy and the role marketers play?

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