Stephen Colbert burned his computer. Bill Maher’s latest conniption about our government occurred over privacy fears. Big cable is stealing our data and our representatives could care less. United States Congressman Marcia Blackburn wants to protect privacy by eliminating barriers, like holding companies accountable to protecting our data against hackers and by making things like our browsing history a commercial commodity.
Well, there’s a fine how do you do. If this is to be taken literally, how we are doing, and more appropriately what we are doing, will be for sale along with every other aspect of our lives. But is this latest move just more hype and scare tactics? Does any of this really matter in the grand scheme of digital consumption and marketing mastery? Clearly, there are two very important angles to be considered when separating late night fodder from daytime reality so let’s have another look at the ever present controversy of privacy and marketing.
We’ll kick off with what appears to be an ill-fated publicity stunt to try and buy the search history of lawmakers from the self declared Resistance Report. This crowdfunded money can only hope to be quickly refunded once, “the resistance” realizes that ISPs are unlikely to sell them information on members of Congress. But more on that in a moment.
While neither one of us works with any ISPs, it has always struck us as odd that internet service providers, trackware and now apparently iTV companies, as a result of the Vizio case, have been saddled with affirmative consent standards while the edge providers were not. If ISPs need affirmative consent for collecting all, or substantially all web traffic, to create targeting segments, it’s a bit strange that the edge providers (who have buttons collecting data on seemingly all major websites) do not need affirmative consent.
With that as background, it doesn’t seem that rescinding the FCC Privacy Rules will have as dramatic an impact on ISPs as one might think. For one thing, there are other rules in place governing ISPs use of data. The Digital Advertising Alliance Code requires trackware and ISPs (defined as “Service Providers” by the DAA) to obtain the affirmative consent of Users if they are using data collected from all or substantially all URLs for ad targeting purposes. The DAA has jurisdiction over the entire digital advertising ecosystem, and recent Congressional moves won’t impact this. So the point is moot. Maybe.
Secondly, consumers seem increasingly willing to provide consent to Google, Facebook, ISPs, and other ad revenue generating digital entities. So while consent requirements posed an enormous hurdle back in 2007, those same requirements are probably less onerous now.
And it’s not like the FCC Privacy Rules were perfect. The FCC Privacy Rules (like the privacy rules being crafted in the EU) adopted an extremely broad definition of personal data – including things like cookie ID and IP address. A broad definition doesn’t create enough incentive for companies to adopt privacy protecting measures such as pseudonymizing and de-identification. And Tom Wheeler’s brainchild did not consider that an IP address is less sensitive than an email address. On that level, the revision of the FCC’s privacy rules might be a good thing.
Back to the crowd funding initiative designed to purchase data from members of Congress. We’re not familiar with a single situation where an ISP has been willing to sell data that includes all the following data points: Full name, IP address, street address, telephone number, websites visited. While Government entities like the NSA may have access to all or some of the data, it seems unlikely that an ISP would be willing to sell that type of information to someone off the street (unless it’s a Russian street), but we digress.
Then there is the purest marketing angle. Pure is loosely defined as garnering any and all information about people so we can sell them more stuff or get them to fall in love with our brands. From that perspective, getting upset about selling our browsing history seems like a much hype-a-do about nothing situation because it’s so digital-marketing-2004.
History marketing could easily be equated to driving around in reverse. Looking backwards to go forward is a great way to make sure you are only going where you know you’ve been, but it’s laughable when you consider the technology we deploy to get inside the hearts and minds of the consuming public today.
When engaging today’s audiences, offering the very limited perspective of a look back isn’t going to cut it. You need to be able to look forward to help people find new experiences, learn to love new behaviors and above all, believe in the products and services they find most valuable.
As marketers, it’s less important to know what audiences have done; we want to know what they are most likely to do next.
When we email our customers, they love it when we send them stuff we know they will like. When we serve ads to our customers in a social environment, we offer them engagements we know they will like because we have watched what they look for and we know what their friends like. We use that information in aggregate to determine how to build audience profiles that allow us to hyper target without getting into anyone’s personally identifiable business.
If someone is seeking to put pressure on Congress, why not call out the hypocrisy of individual members – or rail against the ineptitude of Congress as a whole – there are probably more productive avenues to live out the all encompassing “make the world a better place” cliché.
About the authors:
Alan Chapell, Esq. is the founder of Chapell & Associates. He’s a member of the New York bar as well as a Certified Information Privacy Professional. Follow Alan on Twitter at @Chapell68.
Kevin Ryan is CEO of the digital marketing agency Motivity Marketing, Inc.. Kevin has published hundreds of articles on interactive marketing in industry publications and has appeared often in our most trusted news outlets: ABC, CNN, The Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times. Kevin is co-author of the best selling digital strategy book, “Taking Down Goliath” and his insights are universally acknowledged as best in class by marketers everywhere.