When people like Apple CEO Tim Cook say that consumer privacy is a fundamental human right, I completely agree. Everyone has an inalienable right to their privacy.
In the marketing world, a lot of consumers’ privacy is inextricably tied to their data. And consumers want to feel secure that companies and marketers are using their data ethically and taking the necessary steps to protect it at all times.
The sad reality is that many companies and marketers are not living up to that trust. There are glaring gaps between what it should be like and what it is now.
Most people don’t understand the intricacies of their data. And they don’t need to. It is on marketers, who are supposedly more knowledgeable, to look out for their consumers’ privacy protection.
If we want to gain and ultimately retain our consumers’ faith, we need to radically rethink our approach to data and data privacy.
Many times, when I go to a website or try to download an app, I’m asked to accept terms and conditions before I can use the product.
Once I click the terms to see, it is clear to me that they are not designed for the average human to understand them. They contain reams of legalese that I don’t know how to process.
So, I am faced with a decision. I can decline the terms, in which case I can’t use the app, or I can accept terms that I have no hope of understanding. And what choice do I have? If I want to use the app, I have to helplessly give in. It’s almost like paying ransom.
This happens to millions of us every day. Most people don’t even spend one second thinking about it — it’s just one more button they have to click in the installation process.
If you take the time to dig into the terms, you will be shocked. They may include clauses which enable the company to gain access to areas of the consumers’ data — such as financial — that are totally extraneous and unnecessary for the specific context of the service.
Did you know that many companies continue to collect and store your data even after you’ve deleted their app or stopped using their service? If you are a marketer, do you collect data just because you have the ability to do so, or do you take a step back and see if it is the right thing to do?
I truly believe that “you are defined by how you behave when no one is watching.” As marketers, we should absolutely do right by our consumers at all times.
I recently received an email from a hospital, which I hadn’t been to in several years, alerting me that their database had been compromised — that a lot of personal information like my name, address, date of birth, and social security number had been potentially stolen.
This happens regularly to consumers around the world, and it’s infuriating. If you don’t know how to safeguard my data, what business do you have collecting it? And why were you hoarding it, long after I stopped being your client? Shouldn’t companies be purging data, periodically, to make sure that they only retain their current consumers’ data?
For a consumer, the status quo is unacceptable. If you can’t protect it, don’t collect it.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
Now, I will put back on my marketer’s hat and look at the other side of the coin.
Let’s start with the terms and conditions. If marketers don’t include all of that legalese, they are putting their company at risk of lawsuits. Even if they wanted to wholly get rid of the complex Terms & Conditions, their legal departments would tell them that they are out of their mind.
And they are right.
Consumers ideally want to use a product/service, without having to give marketers access to their data. But those companies aren’t not-for-profits, and they rightfully look at data as the currency they receive in exchange for the services they are providing. What matters is whether the data consumers are giving is a reasonable and fair exchange for the services they are receiving. If consumers plainly understand the trade-off they are making, there is nothing wrong with it. It is a fair and square deal.
Of course, marketers should be responsible for the data they collect and should take all necessary precautions to protect it. But that doesn’t mean a data breach is impossible. Even governments regularly deal with these issues. But are all marketing databases adequately protected? Are marketers, in partnership with their CTOs/CIOs, taking the necessary steps to protect the data?
Consumers also want to ensure that the companies they are giving access to their data don’t sell it to someone else. Marketers may feel that there is nothing wrong with this practice, particularly in cases where they are wholly anonymizing and aggregating the data. There is a philosophical divide here that needs to be bridged.
Marketers know that demographic and behavioral data improves the consumer experience — without data collection, they might bombard consumers with the same advertisements again and again. Or serve them with totally irrelevant ads, offers or promotions, which annoy the consumers.
CHANGES ARE INEVITABLE
In the future, this whole data ecosystem is going to dramatically change. With the Internet of Things, wearables and connected devices, the amount of data collected is going to be tremendous. And we need to inject sanity into the process.
Marketers should think of themselves as consumers first and foremost and ask how they would like their data to be treated. Then they should follow-through and enact relevant policies, putting on their marketing hats.
Put people front and center of all you do. Simplify the legalese. Simplify the data collection. Delete the data after using it. Focus on “Privacy by design”, data protection, anonymization, encryption, and distribution. Every marketing organization should have a clear data governance policy and operate by those principles.
The existing data playbook won’t be adequate or effective when we are faced with the impending data deluge.
There is and will be even more sustained consumer activism and government regulation in play. Whether it’s GDPR in Europe or CCPA in California, steps are being taken to protect consumers. And the regulations will only get tougher and tighter if brands and marketers don’t take adequate responsibility and accountability for protecting consumer privacy.
Enlightened companies are also beginning to take a stand. Whether it’s Google doing away with their cookies (which track what I am doing and where I am going online) or Apple’s improved transparency around personal data in iOS 15, we are starting to see some positive momentum.
Some might try to attribute other motives to these changes. Regardless, as a consumer, I wholeheartedly support these efforts and hope other brands follow suit.
LONG STORY SHORT
Marketing is fundamentally about understanding people. Their needs, their feelings, their problems. And then creating solutions for them the right way, with ethics and integrity.
As we enter the next paradigm of marketing, we need to minimize the collection of data without losing the ability to customize solutions for our customers. And marketers need to have rigorous data governance policies and processes in place.