I f you don’t know it by now—and you should—just about everything you do online is recorded. From the websites you use to the products you shop for and the social media posts you click on, it’s all collected, compiled, and analyzed in your own personal digital dossier . . . which you’ll never see. Your data allows companies to slot you into consumer groups alongside others with similar digital profiles. That data is, of course, a valuable commodity to advertisers and marketers, who leverage it to better communicate with their target profiles. Personal data is such a sought-after commodity that The Economist called it the world’s most valuable resource. Water might demand an apology for that statement, but the point is taken.
Of course, anything valuable is in demand, and consumers (and consumer advocacy groups) have figured this out, challenging companies to do more to protect personal data from getting into the wrong hands. In a study by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, 57 percent of consumers said they do not trust companies to be responsible with their data. As a number of data privacy scandals have shown in recent years, consumers have every right to be concerned. After nearly a decade of consumers and advocates for data protection sounding the alarm, a set of data privacy regulations called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) were proposed in the European Union in 2016. Two years later, it passed, which meant organizations had to allow users in the EU to opt in for their personal data to be collected. That development led to similar regulations in countries around the globe. From there, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was passed the same year, outlining privacy rights for California consumers. Elsewhere, Firefox began to block tracking cookies and Apple recently changed how they allow marketers to engage with user data, disallowing insights by device.
Apple is also implementing App Tracking Transparency (ATT). Today, apps default to opting in to tracking cookies. ATT changes that, meaning that app publishers must convince users to agree to have their cookies tracked. Experts estimate the opt ins will be 20–30 percent, so while digital ads may still reach the app users who opt out of cookie tracking, there will be no way to know whether those ads are reaching the intended audience. With iPhones representing more than 50 percent of US mobile devices, App Tracking Transparency also figures to affect paid social campaigns and retargeting campaigns. The pressure is on for data scientists to do quick studies on new regulations and somehow deliver the data their marketing departments have come to rely on.
These new laws have also spawned increased business opportunities for companies such as DuckDuckGo, a search engine that boasts of its user privacy. Founded in 2008, DuckDuckGo has compared itself to Google in billboard ads by saying, “Google tracks you. We don’t.” The company’s market research team says that every demographic of consumer wants more privacy protection, and the fact that their search engine has been downloaded twice as much in the last couple of years since privacy laws came into effect supports that.
Why is all this so important to marketers? In addition to marketers not being able to know if ads are hitting the target audience, the new laws make it obvious that you must protect your consumers’ data and explain to them that you are doing so. Need more evidence? A study by Tealium found that 85 percent of consumers won’t forgive a company’s misuse of data, even if they previously trusted the brand. It’s not an easy problem to tackle. After spending the last decade or so gathering tools and data on consumers to create hypertargeted marketing for their ideal consumer in the perfect environment, marketers are now being forced to do the same effective job with less info on that ideal consumer. In some cases, these new privacy laws have rendered their expensive data analytics investments almost obsolete.
”The pressure is on for data scientists to do quick studies on new regulations and somehow deliver the data their marketing departments have come to rely on.
So what to do now? For starters, don’t break the laws. It can be costly. Since the GDPR was created, nearly 1,000 fines have been levied against companies across Europe and the UK. Fines there can rise into the $20 million range, or 4 percent of worldwide turnover for the preceding financial year (whichever is higher). A 2021 article by CSO Online, a website for IT security professionals, outlined fines levied against several US companies such as Equifax ($575 million), Uber (nearly $150 million), and Marriott ($124 million, which was later reduced).
Nervous? The Tealium report offered marketers some advice on how to educate consumers, manage and communicate privacy practices, and protect consumer data. First, make compliance a priority for both now and later because consumer privacy laws will continue to evolve. Second, make it clear that you are exchanging something of value with consumers in return for them handing over their data. Forty-three percent of consumers say they would provide data about themselves for discounts, and 32 percent would do so for exclusive benefits. Finally, be transparent and keep it short. Consumers say they are more likely to read consumer-facing legal and policy pages if they are short and straightforward.