Online Privacy and 6 Questions Marketers Should Consider

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online privacy cartoonI am flying back from visiting a client and just finished a TED talk entitled Think your email’s private? Think again. by ProtonMail cofounder Andy Yen. As he began to talk about about the importance of digital privacy, I scoffed and dismissed his concerns. However, as I continued to listen, I realized that my job as a marketer is to affect perceptions, but also cater to them.

A 2013 report from Pew Research Center found that 86% of US internet users “have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints”. A significant portion of the population is actively seeking ways to get better at masking their digital lives and as ProtonMail has demonstrated, the growing number of options are becoming better by the day.

As digital marketers, privacy has become a dirty word, a concept that we are quick minimize and often gloss over. This posture is not totally unfounded. With full privacy, the internet, now mostly free, would rely much more heavily on paid content and donations, almost certainly hindering its ability live and evolve as we have come to expect. Today, we pay for the internet with our data and young generations are far less concerned with their privacy than our not so distant ancestors.

In a perfect world data currency enhances our experiences and lives while allowing brands to more effectively leverage their advertising dollars. While I think this works the vast majority of the time, there are certainly cases where people take advantage of the system and use data in unethical or immoral ways. There is a significant group of people who fear that they are sharing too many of their conversations, locations, searches and moments in the connected world. In the US, people are afraid of a big brother that the do not know with capabilities that they do not understand. Elsewhere, individuals live under harsh governments or dictatorships where privacy can be a matter of life or death. This fear of privacy did not start with the internet and is unlikely to change. Meanwhile, substantiation of this fear will continue to garner heavy debate on both sides and a definitive winner will likely never emerge. That’s why forward-thinking marketers need to consider how they will serve sensitive or anonymous consumers on web. We need to consider not that this may happen, but that these users currently exist and work to provide exceptional digital experiences, even for those who demand their privacy.

  1. Does this mean quantifying the value of withheld data and charging for certain services or content?
  2. Maybe it means that we won’t have data rich prospecting channels, but it doesn’t mean that we won’t have data. How will we leverage the data that our customers divulge to us with the expectation of memorable, remarkable experiences?
  3. How will online privacy affect the provider/customer relationship and the competitions ability to attract them away?
  4. Friends, family and neighbors have an acute understanding of each other’s needs and can actually provide that one to one, personalized message at the right time to the right person on the right device with near 100% accuracy, something we digital marketers have made amazing strides toward, but can only dream about today. How will we leverage social and referral channels to deliver the “personalized media” that we are so desperately chasing?
  5. How do we provide people with enough value to get them to share data with us?
  6. What organizations do we need to partner with such that they can deliver our message to their users in a seamless and privacy conscious way?

I, for one, am not rushing to make incognito mode my default browsing configuration, but others are taking steps to prevent you from collecting even their simplest data. Today the Internet is a data free-for-all and it’s an exciting time to be a digital marketer, but let’s not be lazy, thinking that a privacy rich internet can’t be a thriving ecosystem.



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One Response to Online Privacy and 6 Questions Marketers Should Consider

  1. And online privacy has become more and more strict these days! But its better for the generation that is spending most of their time online.

    Like they say “You are never safe over the internet”.

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