3 Ways to Adapt to the Shift Toward Online Privacy (Ethically, Nonetheless)

In May 2014, the E.U. announced that search engines were responsible for removing links deemed inadequate or irrelevant. This rule is also known as the Right to be Forgotten, and fell squarely in the crosshairs of a Google lobbying campaign. Since then, Google has received over 160,000 requests to remove content and there are few signs that the requests will slow down. 

Yesterday, Mozilla announced the Forget feature in the latest version of the Mozilla browser, which removes cookies, form field information and web browsing history. Of course, this feature is available in Incognito mode on Chrome, but Mozilla is the first major browser to place such a feature front and center of its newest product. 

The E.U. made a decision for regulatory purposes. Mozilla made a decision in the similar vein to satisfy a desire to not hand over all personal information to ad networks, data brokers and the assorted acronyms of companies that exist to monetize the information we unwillingly share. No matter where the next push to online privacy comes from, it’s a push that will continue to emerge until tracking software becomes obsolete. The push may be congressional; it may come from the media industry (Google, Facebook, etc.); or it may come from the people themselves demanding more privacy. 

“Cultivate the ability to separate high-quality info from the pieces blended in, i.e. first-party addressable versus first-party anonymous, a distinction many companies obfuscate.”

The truth is plain to see: we’ll all have to adapt – and the sooner we get used to it, the better. Online marketers, ad ops specialists, salespeople and the like will eventually have to perform their day-to-day functions a little bit differently, respecting the privacy of their both their customers and those with whom we all share the web. 

Thankfully, there’s a way to get started today. 

First, recognize that data has different values. Not all things are created equal, and data is no different. Anonymous browsing data is less valuable than user registration data. Guest checkout data is less valuable the set of data that contains people who opt-in to receiving additional communications from you. CRM data that leverages half a decade of information about prospects is much more valuable than buying a pre-segmented email list from a third-party data broker such as Axciom. Keep this in mind when browsing data for any business purpose and cultivate the ability to separate the high-quality information from the pieces blended in, i.e. first-party addressable versus first-party anonymous, a distinction many companies obfuscate. As third-party tracking software goes away, the anonymous data will become harder to obtain. Get used to treating it differently now and the transition will be smoother. 

“Less ‘we’ll serve you better ads’ and more openness about how the data is being used.”

Second, separate the new and old. If you work at the call-center for the Cleveland Cavaliers and your job is to sell more season ticket packages, having five years of consumer data in the CRM makes sense. There might be years where individuals didn’t buy or others where they attended fewer games than expected. If you’re in retail, that much historical data only becomes useful for lifetime value analysis. But most traditional and digital media companies don’t need to store everything. Plus, there’s a good chance the older information was collected in an era of looser privacy compliance, which also means poorer data quality. Make sure that data doesn’t hinder your current efforts. Moreover, keep in mind that the newer information comes from more privacy conscious consumers. If they tell you something, it’s more likely to be of higher quality. 

Third, offer a true value exchange. We’ve written extensively around data rights and a proper exchange of information. Consumers are willing to trade a piece of their digital DNA, but companies need to offer real value. Less “we’ll serve you better ads” and more openness about how the data is being used. That way, consumers can decide with whom they want to share their data and likely, even the most privacy conscious of them will opt-in to opening up. Transparency is a two way street like that. 

The push toward online privacy continues to gain momentum. Those of us in the industry need to be prepared as the transition occurs so that we have strong business practices in place, understand how data collected today is different from data collected yesterday, and figure out real value exchanges.