Tomorrow, David Ring, EVP, business development, Universal Music Group; Gerard M. Stegmaier, attorney, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; and Howard Hogan, partner, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, will be holding a discussion at South by SouthWest. The question on everyone’s mind: Is the coexistence of data customization and privacy possible?
Custom data, created thanks to the availability of personal information online, creates opportunity for marketers and has the potential to offer users a better experience. Gathering data about users and even their online behaviors – as noted in this post from my BurrellesLuce colleague, Crystal deGoede,– results in increased knowledge about our customers and the potential to serve them better. But re-targeting also has the potential to be “creepy.” Increasing consumer privacy concerns are pushing legislators and the FTC to introduce new legislation that will offer web users more control of their personal data and empower the FTC to enforce voluntary privacy standards developed with Internet companies.
The fear of invasion of privacy is not new. Back in 2009, a White House Memoranda noted:
Potential benefits of web measurement and customization technologies are clear. With the help of such technologies, agencies will be able to allow users to customize their settings, avoid filling out duplicative information, and navigate websites more quickly and in a way that serves their interests and needs. These technologies will also allow agencies to see what is useful to the public and respond accordingly. Services to customers and users can be significantly improved as a result.
At the same time, OMB is acutely aware of, and sensitive to, the unique privacy questions raised by government uses of such technologies. Any such uses must not compromise or invade personal privacy. It is important to provide clear, firm, and unambiguous protection against any uses that would compromise or invade personal privacy.” (White House Memoranda: Guidance for Online Use of Web Measurement and Customization Technologies, June 2010.)
While the government certainly must have a unique sensitivity to privacy concerns, data customization practices in the corporate world are also subject to scrutiny.
With clear and simple language, I believe that a transparent and mutually beneficial relationship between marketers and users can exist. As a consumer, relevant messages and targeted advertising can be helpful and are certainly more welcome than advertisements for products and services that have no relevance to me and may even be offensive. My frequent postings about my children and the Jets, no doubt resulted in the advertisements for children’s Jets gear that populate my Facebook page, but as you can see from the accompanying picture, it was certainly of interest to me!
But what about other data that is being collected by deceptive methods? “Researchers at Carnegie-Mellon published a study concluding that many websites thwart users’ privacy settings by providing erroneous information to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer,” explains this Media Post article. Amazon.com is the latest company “allegedly circumventing the privacy settings of Internet Explorer users.”
What do you think? Is the coexistence of data customization and privacy possible? If the FTC is able to pass legislation to protect users privacy, how might this impact your public relations and marketing efforts?