The same ad following you around the internet used to be annoying but not cause for alarm. Over the last 10 years, though, that perception has changed.
Most internet users don't understand the sophisticated underpinnings of how online data is used. Because of this, the internet has become a rather scary and paranoia-inducing place for many people. The uneasiness has only been exacerbated by highly publicized data breaches like LinkedIn in 2016 and Equifax in 2017. Only a small number of savvy internet users understand and know how to counteract things like website tracking.
Online privacy fears are largely the result of well-publicized coverage of companies like Facebook and Google’s tracking methods, widespread corporate data breaches and Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing at the NSA.
Ultimately, online privacy is an issue of trust. Every day, consumers sign away their privacy and release personal information in exchange for an app or service. Everyone has the right to make alterations to the terms of a contract. This is part of what is known as Freedom of Contract. However, digital agreements rarely if ever grant the ability to make alterations to their terms. Browser privacy changes are one way the big companies are addressing the public’s demands to take use of their personal data more seriously. This shift has resulted in changes that affect everyone using the Internet—companies and users alike.
Technology’s Antidote to Online Privacy Pain
Facebook and Google touch nearly every internet user, and their tracking code can be found on virtually every website. It’s the reason software like AdBlock was created. AdBlock was one of the first browser extensions to address tracking by making ads and scripts simply disappear from web pages. This improves user experience by making web pages load faster and appear less visually crowded.
Ad blocking became more popular as other plugins like uBlock Origin and Ghostery entered the market. These plugins address many forms of tracking in addition to removing unwanted visual elements from webpages.
There have been many other developments to protect user privacy on the internet. Google has a plan to completely kill third-party cookies. New privacy-focused browsers like Brave have come out, and there is even a privacy-focused search engine, Duck Duck Go. Cloudflare introduced 126.96.36.199, a DNS service that does not store logs. 2020 has also seen a new interest by consumers in VPN (Virtual Private Network) services that obfuscate an internet user’s IP address and other identifiable information.
SSL (Secure Socket Layer) is now a de facto standard. SSL allows two systems to communicate over an encrypted connection. This is, in part, due to the popularity of services like Let's Encrypt and web hosts providing SSL for free. Other privacy-focused technologies and updates are coming, such as encrypted DNS lookups.
New legal standards have emerged along with changes to browser privacy standards. GDPR , CASL, CCPA and others seek to find new ways to punish mishandling of data. Some laws like the CCPA attempt to find ways to reward consumers monetarily for use of their data.
What This Means for Digital Marketers
More than ever, it is important to treat databases with extreme care.
Tracking implementation, personalization and retargeting strategies must be modernized.
- Use first-party cookies and SSL by default.
- Come to terms with the fact that individual record-level activity may not be around much longer. Instead, leverage anonymized activity data to spot trends within your database.
- Adhere to the most stringent laws before they become requirements. At the very least, develop a roadmap for compliance your legal team can approve. For example, you may adopt a double opt-in process for marketing communications in the US even though there is not yet a federal law requiring it.
- Appoint a data privacy officer in your organization. Many new pieces of legislation mandate such a position. Get ahead of the curve and create the position now. Mishandling of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and communications permissions can result in major fines under new regulations.
Most people view marketers as singularly focused on making sales no matter what. Marketers need to place themselves in the shoes of the people their communications target. Consider when the best times are to use personalization and when to retarget ads. We've all had the creepy ad follow us around the web, and we've all received an email from out of the blue with information in it that surprised us—and not in a good way.
It is important that marketers are seen as ethical professionals. As an industry, we must work to humanize and change the public’s perception of marketing and its use of technology related to personal information.
About the Author