Personalisation vs. Privacy
Arguably the single greatest benefit of digital advertising for many businesses is data. The ability to track user actions, tie them to specific campaigns, measure the impact of each of these campaigns, and follow up with users to encourage further action is invaluable. Of course, users themselves can also benefit from digital measurement. Platforms that have more information about their users can display more relevant content – including ads – and thereby reduce the amount of irrelevant and irritating material that can detract from users’ online experiences. However, a central question is the extent to which this practice is reconcilable with protecting user privacy. While some tech companies argue that “personalisation doesn’t have to come at the expense of privacy”, others disagree, and consequently we have seen various technological developments intended to limit the ability of online advertisers to track users. As privacy has become an increasingly important consideration for online users, tech companies increasingly agree on the necessity of promoting user privacy, but may differ about the best approach to do this.
Since 2021, Apple’s App Tracking Transparency function has dominated the conversation surrounding digital measurement. However, while this is one of the most significant ad tracking preventions announced by a tech company to date, it is far from the first. As far back as 2015, Mozilla introduced a tool called Tracking Protection, which blocked ads and in-page trackers for Firefox users using private browsing, and Apple themselves introduced Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP) on their Safari browser in 2017. Following various iterations, Tracking Prevention (now known as Enhanced Tracking Protection, or ETP) and ITP now both significantly limit the ability of cookies to track user actions online. On top of this, Google now offers users the option to block all third-party cookies in Chrome, and have announced their plans to deprecate these entirely by late-2024.
It appears that the effectiveness of the tools digital marketers have used for years to measure, report on, and optimise their campaigns is being diluted by a slew of tracking-resistant technological implementations. At Merkle, we argue that rather than resist these changes, advertisers should embrace user privacy, and make it front and centre of their online presence.
Why should advertisers care about user privacy?
These developments are representative of a digital ecosystem in which privacy is a growing concern among consumers; more and more users care about their data and are more likely to do business with companies that they trust. A 2019 survey by Cisco identified a sizeable new group of users (32% of all respondents) they termed “privacy actives”, who not only care about privacy and are willing to act on it, but had already done so. Moreover, initial analysis by analytics company Flurry has suggested that only around 1 in 4 iOS users opt-in to tracking when presented with the App Tracking Transparency prompt. Consumers vote with their feet; data privacy is clearly a topic that significantly concerns a growing number of Internet and App users and will affect the companies that they choose to spend money with.
Beyond appealing to consumers, companies with a focus on privacy will also ready themselves for any further legal and technological restrictions that may be implemented in the future. In the past few years, we have already seen huge swathes of the digital world scrambling to react to various legal changes including the GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California, as well as technological updates such as App Tracking Transparency and ITP. As governments and tech companies focus their attentions on data privacy, these announcements will only continue; meaning advertisers that establish sound, transparent approaches to user privacy now will save themselves a lot of work further down the line.
More to the point, advertisers should respect user privacy because it’s the right thing to do. Privacy is a right guaranteed by Article Eight of the Human Rights Act of 1998, and people should not be forced to hand over large quantities of personal information to various companies – be that Personally Identifiable Information such as one’s name or address, or less transparent information such as behavioural habits and browsing history – in order to browse the internet. User data has historically been collected without informed consent; this needs to change.
What can advertisers do?
There are several steps advertisers can take to demonstrate that they care about their users’ privacy:
- Make it easy for website visitors to decide what level of data they want to share. Cookie notices that force users to jump through multiple different menus and individually toggle each option on and off are frustrating and unnecessary. Making these menus easy to navigate will improve web page experience, reduce churn, and lead to happier, more engaged users.
- Be clear in what you’re using customer data for. This information shouldn’t be hidden in overlong and confusing privacy notices; instead, these should be written with the user in mind, making them easy to navigate and to understand for those who may be less well-versed in matters of online privacy.
- Make sure you’re clear about which companies you work with. Don’t partner with businesses whose privacy principles do not match your own; if you share customer data with them then the work you have done in protecting your customers’ privacy is meaningless.
- Explore cookieless solutions. As contextual targeting doesn’t require cookies, many partners are starting to offer sophisticated contextual solutions, which are delivering similar and stronger performance results. Examples include:
- Teads Cookieless Translator – takes your cookie-based audience and translates it to cookieless, using a large volume of cookieless signals.
- Permutive – work with a network of publishers to unlock remarketing and modelled audiences with 1st party data.
- GumGum – use contextual intelligence technology to comprehensively analyse text and image content and derive human like understanding.
- Captify – uses real-time first party search data to offer a cookieless search intelligence solution across a range of channels including CTV, video, native and display.
Privacy considerations are here to stay, and the advertisers that voluntarily lean into this now – rather than being forced to do so in the near future – will reap the benefits in both the short and long-term. Get in touch with us now to hear how we can help you to promote privacy-centric advertising initiatives.