The public is marching on marketers with flaming torches and pitchforks. Well, not really. Though, with the furor over the misuse of personally identifiable information (PII), you might think so. This uproar is reflected in pending “Do Not Track” legislation around the proper use and security of digital information.
The public knows that websites, ISPs and marketers collect information about browsing activity and use it to serve up targeted ads based on a user’s behavior and interests. However, data collection isn’t relegated to advertisers; it’s also used by organizations like Amazon or eBay to provide product recommendations based on consumer purchase history.
From the marketer’s perspective, this digital information allows them to better serve the public by only posting ads or emails that are relevant to their target audience.
No one likes or endorses the alternative: “carpet bombing” the web with intrusive ads and unsolicited emails in the hope that they’ll reach a receptive audience.
Now, with the rise of data breaches at enterprises and other organizations with a significant web presence, the public and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are placing greater importance on the mechanisms behind data collection, proper use of data and appropriate security systems to protect that data. Hence, Do Not Track.
While the FTC has admitted that it has yet to reach a consensus on the definition of a Do Not Track mechanism, it would basically provide a way for consumers to opt-out of all data collection and digital tracking. Admittedly, this is appealing for some consumers, but what would it mean for digital marketers?
Marketers need to fall in line with their own best practices and self-regulate their data collection and behavioral targeting activities before the government steps in. Marketers need to be transparent about how they collect, use, store and protect their data. They need to provide clear and concise privacy policies, ensure it’s easy to opt-out of marketing communications, and offer an easy way for consumers to manage and edit the private information they make public.
Marketers should immediately unsubscribe or opt-out any consumers who choose those options. It’s essential to secure permission to send messages or serve targeted ads to consumers before doing so.
This issue has implications for consumers as well. We have the obligation to manage our own personal data. Take note of privacy policies and opt-out of any marketing communications you’re not interested in. Then the amount of unsolicited email and ads you receive will drop significantly.
Take note of the Obama administration’s recent “Privacy Bill of Rights,” which outlines a set of guidelines that could serve as a model for regulation within the industry. I encourage all online business to adopt these polices.
By encouraging proactive consumer action and taking the lead in responsible data collection and usage policies, marketers can prove to both the public and legislators that we are capable of self-regulation and of working in the public’s best interest as it relates to data governance and digital security.