Consumer privacy in the digital world is a hot – and serious – topic in 2019. New policies and regulations are in the works, making some changes to digital advertising inevitable. Here’s an overview.
At the beginning of 2020, people in California will gain some legal rights concerning their personal data.
Much like the GDPR in Europe, the essence California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) – for consumers – is that they’ll have the right to know who is tracking them as well as the right to request what personal information a business holds specifically about them. They can ask why this information is being gathered, and what 3rd parties it’s being shared with.
Consumers can request that data be deleted and/or to be opt-out of being tracked.
Businesses will have to be prepared to meet these requests. They’ll also be legally responsible for any security breaches of data under their control.
Interestingly – for both parties – businesses will be allowed to offer financial incentives to collect data from specific consumers.
Data privacy is going to shape the way we deliver and experience digital content.
The Data Conflict
Behavioral data tracking creates conflict. Businesses like Google and Facebook believe they’re providing a value-add to consumers because data tracking lets them deliver relevant, personalized ads to users.
But users worry because they don’t know who is tracking them or what’s being done with their data. They fear tracking will cross the line and get into personal info platforms like Facebook have no business knowing. Or worse, an unscrupulous third-party will hack their data.
Laws like the CCPA seek to resolve this conflict.
In the future, there a couple of things we can be pretty sure of. First, behavioral data tracking and targeted advertising are going to continue. It’s huge business and – in fact – there are advantages for consumers.
But it’s also clear that consumers are going to gain rights that ensure they know who’s collecting what data and how it’s being used. They’ll have the right to opt-out of behavioral tracking if they choose.
Businesses will face more complexities because they’ll have to be accountable for the data they use to target their ads.
One of the most insidious aspects of behavioral tracking – for both consumers and businesses – is the filter bubble.
As your online behavioral profile becomes more detailed, algorithms use that data to determine what content you’ll see. Basically, algorithms selectively assume what a user wants to see because it abides to their past activity.
This is Facebook’s business model. They want you to stay engaged and happy while using their platform, so the algorithm shows you content you’re likely to be interested in – or agree with.
The problem is, this creates a type of bubble that can make the possible topics you’ll see too narrow.
For example, if you tend to follow liberal political content, before long that’s the main type of political content you’ll see. But it may well be that you’d also like to see content with opposing viewpoints.
If you’re a vegetarian, the algorithms will figure this out. If you search for a recipe using spinach, you’ll get different results than someone with a search history that shows they eat a lot of meat.
But let’s say that vegetarian has friends who love BBQ ribs. She needs an excellent BBQ sauce. An advertiser would have been in a good position to show her a BBQ ad – but she won’t be targeted for it because she’s in a vegetarian filter bubble.
People are concerned about their direct privacy because it’s a problem they can conceptualize. But, in fact, it may be that the more serious problem is the filter bubble that limits their content ecosystem based on the assumptions of a computer algorithm.
These algorithms are designed to hook you in based on your known interests. The goal is to keep you on the platform so you see more ads and generate more profits.
But we’re you’ve been isn’t always an indicator of where you want to go. But behavioral tracking uses data, which is betting at tracking the past than predicting the future.
Where We’re Headed
The CCPA is undoubtedly a harbinger of the things to come. Eventually, there will a Federal law dealing with consumer data privacy.
You may have to include an opt-out link on your website for those who don’t want to be tracked. This will reduce the size of your retargeting list, but may make those lists more qualified.
One thing for certain is that equal services will be guaranteed. In other words, a company won’t be able to segment groups and offer unequal services or prices to that group.
For consumers, it means more control over how retargeting ads are delivered. When you don’t want to see ads from a company you’ll have that control.
Privacy controls will be in place, but don’t worry. Targeted advertising isn’t going anywhere. There’s too much money on the table.
But it not just the money. Amazon and Facebook are right. There is value-add to behavioral data tracking, namely that advertising content is relevant to users on a personal level.
Even TV commercials, with the advent of OTT ads, are micro-targeting audiences.
And why not? One way or another, ads will be there. Isn’t it better that they be relevant to your needs?
The reality consumers need to face is that the internet is not inherently private. Even though you’re alone on your device, you’re in a public space.
That doesn’t mean you don’t have rights – you do, and the changing legal environment is addressing them. However, when you’re online, you’re in a world where every move you make leaves a trace.
The only real way to have no personal data trail is to never go online or shop with a credit card. That hardly seems worth it for most of us.
You’ll be able to manage your data and block ads if you wish. But as the privacy debate settles and proper legal protections are in place, most people will realize they prefer personalized advertising.
As for the problem of filter bubbles, that’s a whole nother can of worms. Predictive advertising is one thing, but nobody wants an algorithm determining what news they see or what “facts” their research uncovers.
The bigger question, ultimately, is not so much one of privacy as control. How will content be delivered to us in a way that respects our privacy, maintains relevancy, and keeps from being intellectually isolated in filter bubbles?
To answer that, we may need new technology. No doubt it will come with its own set of legal issues.