Under the new legislation, websites collecting information about their visitors would be required to disclose to consumers how data is being collected and used, with whom it is shared and the circumstances under which that sharing takes place. In addition, if consumers do not want their information collected or used for those stated purposes, they have the option to opt out directly on the site.
This move comes at a very interesting time as online privacy is — and has been — a hot button issue for a long time because some consumers have a vision of the advertising industry as “Big Brother,” monitoring their every move on the Internet and taking copious notes.
The reality of customer tracking, however, is much more boring. Ad agencies are simply trying to get the most appropriate message in front of the most appropriate consumer at the most appropriate time. No one is harmed in explaining how this is accomplished.
The key to rectifying this situation is through transparency from advertisers. Transparency leads to consumer knowledge and, therefore, empowerment. Rather than implementing a disruptive opt-in screen for websites and online ads that track customer behavior, the industry could instead build consumer trust through proactive initiatives.
Trust is the most valuable asset a marketer has today so dispelling all of the myths and treating the trust of consumers with the respect and value it deserves gives them no incentive to opt out.
Just think the opt-in process through for a moment: you’re online, surfing the web when suddenly you’re presented with a prompt that says something like, “You are now entering a website that will track your every move. Would you like to continue?”
I’d be willing to wager that not a whole lot of people are going to willingly press the “Yes” button. It’s an intimidating process and positions advertisers as shadowy figures when the information that will be gathered is harmless to consumers.
It is no longer marketers vs. consumers; we’re all on the same team today. While opt-in seems to be Capitol Hill’s answer to the issue, ad companies know that keeping consumers’ attention online can be difficult and any bump in the road has the potential to derail a campaign or website’s success.
It is the fear of the unknown that is fueling this legislation so it is the advertising industry’s responsibility to work with lawmakers to create an unobtrusive, transparent consumer advocacy environment to let consumers know what information is gathered and what exactly it is used for. Breaking down these last remaining barriers will only help to make us all better off.
It will be interesting to see how this legislation pans outs and even more intriguing will be how marketers adapt (or don’t adapt) to these privacy regulations. Will they take the proactive approach to developing and maintaining customer trust, or drop tracking tactics altogether to avoid penalties? And how will this impact online advertising overall?
Only time will tell.