Consumer privacy can’t be divisive, because it’s table stakes

Consumer privacy can’t be divisive, because it’s table stakes

No one wins when we polarize consumer privacy.

In all the press swirl over a mainstage speech at this year’s IAB Annual Leadership Summit, Alison Weissbrot, editor-in-chief at Campaign US, wrote a piece that cuts through the sensationalism and really hits the nail on the head: Consumer privacy can no longer be seen as a divisive issue in the digital advertising industry. 

The excessive capturing of personal data is no longer sustainable, and those viewing consumers’ rights as an adversary to overcome are putting themselves at a disadvantage. 

Privacy, from both an ethical and business perspective, should no longer be up for discussion. It should be table stakes.

Uninformed consent

We are at a milestone moment when consumers are saying that they are deeply concerned about digital privacy, but fundamentally lack an understanding of how their data is shared with marketers and where to find tracking protections. 

A recent report published by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania found that 91% of the over 2,000 respondents “agree they want to have control over what marketers can learn about them online,” but 80% “say they have little control over how marketers can learn about them online.” 

The survey also revealed that most don’t know how their data is collected, what it’s used for or how existing regulations protect them. They also do not trust companies to properly handle their data, which isn’t surprising after a litany of high-profile data breaches and leaks over the last decade or so. 

Consumers feel defeated by the lack of transparency and control over how their data is being collected, with 73% saying they don’t have the timeto keep up with the technology needed to control it. 

A gap in the market

While the study shows that consumers lack the knowledge to give informed consent to use their data, it also indicates that a sea change is occuring. People no longer trust companies with their data and have growing concerns about whether sharing their personal information is still a fair exchange for services and discounts. 

This means that as regulations become more inclusive and consumers become more tech-savvy (which each generation is), privacy will no longer be up for grabs. People are aware their information is a valuable commodity for advertisers; they just don’t quite know how to navigate it yet. This is fertile ground for new technologies and solutions that address consumer need for transparency and data protection.

As some factions rail against regulations for user privacy, others will jump on the opportunity to answer new demands. Just think about the growing audience of gamers. This is no small cadre of customers –– and they are incredibly valuable for marketers across key categories. They are extremely tech-savvy and need to be reached with data privacy top-of-mind –– or you likely won't be able to reach them at all.

There’s huge demand without much trustworthy supply yet. Not only because of regulations that will inevitably come to fruition, but also because that is what consumers overwhelmingly want. They will be drawn to products, browsers and brands that respect their desire for privacy. Until there is transparency, there will be no consumer trust.

The win-win

Privacy and advertising don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Advertisers and publishers need revenue to keep high-quality content flowing. Consumers need more products that empower them to control their information to fill in the gaps while privacy regulations catch up. 

Like any ecosystem, these parties are intertwined and rely on the other for survival. A consumer-centric approach can be mutually beneficial to all in the online ecosystem. Real change will come from regulators and lawmakers, users uniting and demanding more, corporations making ethical, socially responsible choices and the advertising industry itself. 

The time is now. We have an obligation to put differences aside and work together to deliver a privacy-centric digital ad ecosystem. At the same time, it’s good for business and for people. 

If we fail to do so, we will lose a significant percentage of today's consumers – and even more tomorrow. If we want our businesses to grow, we need to make privacy a 'must'.

Jan Wittek is chief revenue officer at Eyeo.

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