Data privacy: A new chapter is here

Data privacy: A new chapter is here

The curtains have been drawn back, letting in enough light for everyone to see areas of the digital advertising landscape that were previously obscured by shadow. Much of it still is, of course, but the public has never been more aware of the issue of data privacy. It feels like a turning point and legislation is at last beginning to catch up. The Wild West days of big data appear to be over.

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal began an overdue conversation. It’s high time everyone understands how their personal data is being bought and sold, and not just through Facebook. By its very nature, ad tech relies heavily on the exploitation of personal data and the tracking of users. It’s a fact that governments and the broader public have been slow to grasp, but they are starting to do so now and it’s not sitting well with them.

This is as a result of the revelations about how Facebook has been letting its data get around. It’s not only advertisers who are interested in it, as we now know. Some extremely nefarious actors, such as those in the business of subverting democracy, have also been stockpiling “the new oil” and using it to inform their deployment of fake news.

Highly relevant, precisely targeted advertising is appreciated by consumers, and for brands it means far greater ROI on ad spend. It even helps small and medium-sized businesses compete with larger enterprises. But there is a hefty trade-off and Facebook is evidently a long way from having a handle on it.

Writing for The Atlantic, Alexis C Madrigal highlights the asymmetries that have emerged: “Gullible people can be targeted over and over with ads for businesses that stop just short of scams. People prone to believing hoaxes and conspiracies can be hit with ads that reinforce their most corrosive beliefs. Politicians can use blizzards of ads to precisely target different voter types.” At what point does such advertising become manipulation or coercion, he asks.

The public’s trust in Facebook may have been irreparably damaged and their wariness is increasingly turning to the greater digital industry. The crux of the problem was illustrated in Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to the US Congress in which he displayed uncertainty about how his platform tracks users outside of its walled garden. Writing for Digiday, Tim Peterson responds: “The more light that is shone on the tracking and targeting that goes on, the more aware people become of the shadows.”

But massive changes are occurring with the EU leading the charge. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is causing sleepless nights in Silicon Valley – because it applies to any organisation based outside the EU offering goods and services to EU residents – and many US tech firms simply aren’t ready. The grace period ends in May 2018 and a wave of litigation is expected in its wake. South Africa’s own Protection of Personal Information Act, due to come into effect in late 2018, is a very similar data protection law with almost identical requirements for compliance.

Now the US is considering the same sort of legislation. The recently proposed Customer Online Notification for Stopping Edge-provider Network Transgressions (Consent) Act, a law requiring explicit opt-in consent from users for data-gathering and sharing, with security and breach reporting requirements, will essentially be the US version of the GDPR. When asked about it, Zuckerberg said the principle of the bill was exactly right.

It’s hardly surprising that brands are feeling anxious in this messy digital advertising landscape, but there is a safe avenue to pursue (short of returning all ad spend to print and radio).

Inbound marketing works, using the web in the way it was intended: as an information resource built to serve the user. It’s unobtrusive and adds value for consumers with useful content instead of stalking them from the shadows. At League Digital, we remain passionate about forging content marketing strategies that deliver the most bankable returns and lasting traction for our clients.

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