The Ever-Changing World of Online Privacy and the Emerging Double-Standard


The acronym PII (personally identifiable information) is becoming important in the marketing industry. Why? Well, the outcry seems universal that people don’t want brands, marketers, or retailers touching their PII. But does that complaint even make sense? Consider the following:

  • Google saves search data on everyone who uses their service, and no one seems to care. In fact, when Google uses that data to provide ads at the top and side of every search we perform, we don’t bat an eye. Google is basically leveraging our data to control how much retailers will pay for those ads.
  • Facebook (and soon Instagram) uses our PII to determine how things appear in our feeds. The fact is that the average person has so many friends online that they miss a great deal of what gets posted. Facebook makes up for this by using your PII to determine what is most important to you. Then you see that content first on your feed rather than getting everything in chronological order. But no one complains that Facebook leverages data to alter our feeds, and even throws in the occasional sponsored ad.

Double-Standards and Online Privacy

So why is there an industry double standard where your average retailer is a “stalker” if they use your PII, but Google and Facebook act like “Big Brother” without consequences or even anyone crying foul?

The FTC is in charge of regulating things like online privacy. The European Union has yet to establish anything for this. Today the trend in digital is for people to forget about online privacy for the sake of convenience. No one ever seems to bring up privacy until a security breach causes a company to lose the personal information of a number of clients. Then it’s on the 5 o’clock news, and the bad guy is always the brand—but never the hacker.

How do you feel about online privacy and the double standard that exists between a company like Google and your average brand? Feel free to weigh in on this hot topic in the comments section below.

Data Hoarders Threaten Privacy


Data Hoarders Threaten Privacy: Why People View Facebook as a Threat, but Not Amazon

The fact is big business is collecting a ton of data on us. It’s also a well-known rumor (or fact) that the US government is at the top of the list when it comes to watching our every move online. Social networking, however, often has the worst reputation when it comes to privacy. Why? Much if has to do not so much with the data collected as the way that is it being used.

Surveys have revealed which companies are viewed as the largest threats to privacy. Facebook and Twitter, two of the biggest social networking sites, seem to always be high on the list. Additionally, while Google (perhaps the largest data collector of them all) has only seen people grow in concern over their data collection in the past two years, those concerns have nearly doubled recently.

On the flip side, we find Amazon. People rate it as among one of the safest sites with a mere one in 15 people being concerned over privacy and nearly half of consumers admiring their privacy policy. So, why the discrepancy? Doesn’t Amazon collect a ton of data on everyone and use it to solicit sales? Of course they do! Here’s the difference.

Big companies like Google and Facebook seem to collect data just for the sake of having it all. Amazon has a specific purpose: They want to sell us stuff. Internet-dependent companies that collect data with no apparent purpose can drum some scary ideas into people’s heads and have us wondering what they’re doing with all that information. With Amazon, we associate data collection with recommended products and targeted emails. That’s actually a convenience.

The trend is understandable. People have no problem giving up their personal data if they know why you want it. We trust Amazon. They’re a business with a great reputation. We don’t worry about personal information being sold to the highest bidder, relinquished to the government, or locked away forever for some secret future plan. Amazon just wants our money, and they are nice enough to use personal data they collect on us to recommend what we should give it to them for.

So if you want to collect data, make the purpose clear. Don’t be ambiguous about hanging on to it for some unexplained reason that might involve future sales to third parties, anti-terrorism intel collection, or just a belief that the company with the most data wins. Data hoarders threaten privacy. Consumers want transparency, and they want tangible returns on the data that gets collected on them.

Don’t Keep Your Privacy Policy Private


Three Ways Your Company’s Privacy Policy Is Aggravating Consumers

The public is in an uproar over privacy. Are there things that we do as companies to exacerbate the situation? Here are a few things to consider.

Stop treating privacy policy as an afterthought. It’s true that privacy policy doesn’t produce a discernible number in the profit column, but that can’t prevent you from making it a focal point. Your company needs to stay up-to-date on privacy developments. In fact, you should really strive to be on the cutting edge if you want to keep consumers happy. Plus, you will avoid the repercussions of privacy issues in the long run. You may not be able to put a dollar amount on making privacy a focus, but it certainly makes sense.

Don’t make your privacy policy a lengthy mess of legal gobbledygook. No one wants to read all that and no one can understand it. It becomes a source of frustration to consumers who want to know what data is being collected and how it will be used. Transparency is what consumers want. Speak plainly. Keep it simple. Make sure that everything is spelled out in a way that the average consumer can understand.

The cover-up: this may be what consumers hate the most. The fact is that all companies make mistakes. Inevitably, some private data will leak out due to a new hack or cyber-attack. It may be revealed that the NSA has been intercepting data you have collected. Whatever it is that has your customers upset, just say you’re sorry. No one wants to hear, “we didn’t know,” or, “there’s no way we could have prevented…” No one cares about the excuses. Just apologize and move on. And if you make a major privacy error in judgment (remember the scandal with Instagram when the policy changed last year?), don’t be afraid to tell consumers they were right to be upset. Then change your policy back to one that is less controversial. Better, of course, would be to not adopt controversial policies in the first place.

Internet Privacy in 2014


Privacy in 2014 – Big Changes Your Company Needs to Plan for Now

Everyone is concerned about privacy, and people are only getting more vocal about it when it comes to events like the Christmas shopping Target scandal. This means big changes in 2014 from two different angles: legislation and self-regulation on the part of the industry. Here’s what to look out for so the changes don’t catch your company off guard.

Let’s start across the pond in Europe. The European Commission (EC) is still reeling from finding out that the NSA has spied on European citizens. Now they are calling for stricter policies when it comes to American businesses protecting the data of European citizens. This means changes to the safe harbor program, and while the government may not pass legislation requiring the changes, the FTC will no doubt be keeping an eye on things in order to maintain good business relations with our international business partners.

In the US, we have some state legislation to consider. California has instituted a “Do Not Track” rule. It’s going to be tough to institute for many websites. The site owner may be more than willing to follow the rules, but partners are tougher to control. Hopefully, California will be understanding and issue some warnings before the monetary penalties set in. Either way, just be mindful of what you are required to disclose by law.

Finally, watch out for more intervention by the Better Business Bureau. If you collect behavioral data and don’t disclose that fact in real time, you may be looking at penalties. The FTC is also looking to tighten the reigns, in particular when the privacy of a child is involved. Photos, videos, and GPS location are all considered to be personal information. If your site is going to collect anything like this from someone under the age of 13, you’ll need to have a way to get parental consent first.

With the heat bearing down from two different American agencies, as well as pressure to conform to the EC’s demands, businesses will have to make adjustments to how they handle privacy in 2014.

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