Privacy has never been a hallmark of the internet, but changing attitudes and policies are bringing about new safeguards for how consumers’ private information is used and shared, as well as new challenges for digital marketers.
The mechanisms reshaping digital privacy were well underway before the Covid-19 pandemic forced more people to stay home and use the web for work, school and play. Indeed, individual privacy has gained primacy in the debate – one that has now spread globally -- over how digitized personal data is obtained, stored and shared with third parties.
Caught up in the spiraling privacy debate are digital marketers/advertisers and technology and social-media providers who rely on data, provided voluntarily or not, to deepen and focus their online customer connections and messaging. In short, it’s the key to revenue and profits from the web.
Balancing users’ privacy against digital marketers’ need to track users’ responses to their online offerings, especially as their reliance on bits of applications code called “cookies’’ ebbs, will be challenging. However, some privacy advocates eventually see an “open web’’ in which alternative technologies are deployed that promote greater web accessibility and safety. To stay in compliance with online privacy dictates, experts say that means marketers likely will have to spend more on automation and analytics tools.
Web privacy efforts are global
There is much at stake. Market researcher Gartner has forecast that by 2025, eight in 10 digital marketers will scrap efforts to personalize users’ online experiences, fearing legal ramifications and lack of a return on that marketing investment.
Overseas, the European Union (EU) has aggressively held major tech and social-media giants to account on their privacy policies since adoption of its strict General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018.
The GDPR applies to any of the world’s digital marketers who are collecting or sharing European residents’ personal data. EU takes its rule seriously: Since Jan. 2021, its web-privacy overseers have handed out some $1.2 billion in fines for about 800 violations.
In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission has oversight of web-privacy matters. But unlike in the EU, there is no single law that regulates data privacy. Instead, it’s at the state level where digital-privacy rules struggle to get traction. In 2018, California became the first enactor with its California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Colorado and Virginia will also have similar laws in effect starting in 2023.
A number of other states tried but failed to adopt similar statutes that specify consumers’ online rights and business’ obligations to protect them. Several got bogged down over a provision that would permit individuals to sue over the misuse of their private data.
Protecting users’ right to privacy
Some privacy advocates urge that control of consumers’ private data move away from individual websites to users’ browsers to their digital devices, no matter what website they visit. With “global privacy control,’’ users could opt in or out of data sharing – once, rather than multiple times – on whichever browser or digital device they use.
The current iteration of this so-called “opt-out’’ option, lays the choice of whether or not to accept cookies on users each time they link to a website.
Former White House senior technology adviser Ashkan Soltani, who helped California draft its data-privacy measure and heads its new privacy-protection agency, has promoted the technical notion of placing more control over personal, private data in the hands of their owners.
The path to a workable coda for digital privacy will be rocky. While online users and advocates clamor for more protections, digital browsers and the websites that rely on them are still obligated to act as access gatekeepers.
Their burden will only grow as more sensitive and age-appropriate websites emerge, such as those engaged in health and telemedicine, online betting and adult entertainment.
In the current era of liberal privacy restrictions, marketers still must rely on users truthfully revealing their ages or other biometric information before granting access. Stiffer web-privacy policies could complicate that.
To discuss your specific consumer privacy needs and your website, talk to a ZAG Interactive representative today.