Why We Need To Focus on Privacy

Looking To The Future Of Privacy

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have historically seen my job in support of marketing as trying to create true value for companies, their customers, and the community at large. I grew up seeing technology better lives, and I thought I was following that same path in my own small way.

We're living in remarkable times. Technology has fundamentally transformed nearly every aspect of our life. Americans check their phones 96 times a day--that’s once every 10 minutes! And with each interaction, a little virtual representation of the individual begins to form. But most people don’t think about the reality of how every email opened, every browser session, and every transaction provides a personal view into our lives. 

We assume that when we interact with a company, we're aware of how they use our information in order to better serve us. But it isn’t always clear that a third-party is in the middle of that relationship, capturing all of the personal data exhaust. And this puts that third-party in control, not that brand we’re interacting with. Too often as consumers, we don't even know that a third-party is involved at all. I think that should trouble most people. 

Privacy In A Culture of Sharing

At the same time, we’re a culture of sharing. So many people live their lives in public view, freely exposing the kind of information that we complain about companies having access to. The truth is that we're all participating in the digital economy--and even more so during the pandemic. And when we participate in it, we expose ourselves to an endless opportunity for coercion, all for the promise of convenience. 

So what should we make of all of this? You can be concerned or you can just accept that this is the way the world works now. But I think we can make it better. 

Ultimately, the individual and the brands they have relationships with have to be in more control. Specifically, I think we need to focus on how we define our personal space.

Defining Our Virtual Personal Space

We don’t have to create that definition out of thin air. We already have a model for personal space. Think about your house. You don’t allow trespassing. There's no unreasonable search and seizure. It's a place where you can practice your faith. It’s where you can live your life as privately as you choose.

So the question is, how do we actually expand that concept of your house into the virtual world and your virtual space? And how do we allow someone to extend their personal space to include the companies and brands that they interact with?

Our thinking has to be elastic, because things change. Our sensitivity around our identities and what we share has evolved over time. Not too long ago, phone books containing our phone numbers and addresses were delivered to our front door, and we gave our email addresses to everyone who had a raffle or sweepstakes. Now there's more sensitivity to some of those same things--I couldn’t imagine giving my home address to countless strangers. 

And our attitudes will continue to change. They change as innovation changes. As this happens, we have to be able to also adapt our privacy technology and solutions. 

So, we have to ensure that the initial moment of interaction a person has with a company is the place that allows them to define the extension of their personal space, progressively and in real-time. We have to give them that control.

Taking Control Of Your Privacy

Consider the direct relationship you have with a company that you explicitly engage in commerce with. You’re inherently extending your personal space to include that company. You should have the ability to control what's being shared and for what reason. 

In MarTech and AdTech there seem to be two extremes when presented with this challenge. One extreme lands on, “Burn it all down. Everything's broken. We have to start over,” and at the other extreme is, “Nothing will change. There's always been some privacy concern, but nothing's ever changed that much and it will never change.” 

Neither extreme is realistic. 

If I'm going to lean towards one end of the spectrum, it’s definitely not toward the side that says nothing will change. Things should change. But we don't need to burn everything down, we just need to modify some of the foundations.

When we talk about privacy, what really cuts through the fog are three things people understand: security, control, and more than anything, they understand convenience.

  1. Security: Have you lost my data? How well are you protecting it?
  2. Control: Can I have a say as to what you’re doing with my data?

    But, while people want some control, they also have finite attention and a lot of things competing for that attention.  So...

  3. Convenience: How easy are the privacy controls to use?

Starting with Convenience, people will only manage their privacy preferences if a fair value is exchanged. In the real world, privacy in practice is when we extend a small portion of our personal space to a brand for the appropriate value. I give Faherty Brands my email address because I like their clothes and I get value through the satisfaction that I feel wearing their clothes. So if we give people value and convenient tools, they extend their personal space to a brand and they'll actually take a little more control and ownership.

We have to arm companies with tools that will enable both the value exchange and the ability for individuals to give permission or extend that aspect of their personal space to the brand. We need to ensure that while they enter into the economic relationship and value exchange willingly and explicitly, that the individual gets to engage on their own terms.

We Have To Be Realistic

However, we have to acknowledge that any company we interact with depends on an entire gestalt of software and services that underlie and enable our digital economy. That great brand you love is likely using Adobe, Shopify, Optimizely, The Trade Desk, and/or a host of other companies to just keep their business running. So data will flow outside of that direct relationship with that company that you're interacting with to necessary second-party relationships. So the privacy tools we create must be transparent about that and must secure that flow. 

Central among the concerns of most of the population is security. Keeping data secure is a full-time job. Security takes real dedication. Dedication from the people that are responsible and dedicated money required to ensure data is protected to the highest commercial standards. We need to establish that those entrusted with personal data have the means and the will to actually protect it. True privacy progress depends on trust.

We need to take meaningful steps to provide security and privacy control wrapped in a blanket of convenience for consumers and the companies they engage with. In doing this, I think we’re starting the journey to improve the foundations of MarTech and AdTech. That’s why FullContact is focused on privacy.  

We take the security of consumer data seriously. 

We are creating tools for our clients to help manage privacy with their customers.  

We help our clients protect data that is shared with their partners.  

And we help companies do all of this at the person-level, as real people would expect it.

This is the second installment of a multi-part series exploring the future of the industry.  The first post discusses who has control of our data.

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