Online Privacy Continues to be of Concern

Privacy concerns have been in the news lately. Three seemingly unrelated stories from the past few weeks tie together to tell a story about what’s happening in the digital world: In October, Google announced changes in how encrypted search data is tracked: people who are logged into their Google account will be directed to the secure search page (https), and their specific search terms will not be included in Google Analytics data. This was welcome news to consumers, increasingly concerned about how businesses are using search data, which most users see as private, or at least anonymous.

For marketers accustomed to having access to all keywords used to arrive at their site, suddenly not having access to a large segment of them might be jarring. Analytics guru Avinash Kaushik has some advice for analytics professionals on how to manage this change. Even he admits that there will likely be a loss in data – notably in valuable “long tail” data. For most companies this isn’t critical, since the subset of private searches will closely mirror the general public search population in profile. But it may have an impact in some cases, especially if more people make a point to search securely.

This week in Canada, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddard announced updated privacy guidelines related to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). Guidelines include offers to opt out of having personal information collected or tracked by online advertising. Further provisions include: how online behavior of children is tracked, a limit to the collection of sensitive personal information, and increasing the transparency in how data is collected.

Finally, the Carrier IQ tracking issue hit the news this week. Carrier IQ is software that runs in the background on SmartPhones and tracks user data, ostensibly to monitor network performance. Recently, a developer demonstrated that the software could also track keystrokes or user emails — things that most people would assume to be private. Understandably, outrage ensued.

Consumers want more control over their personal information. They recognize that businesses see value in their data, and they’re seeking opt-out methods in increasing numbers. Many businesses are in reactive mode, trying to keep up with the legislation. The smart ones are in proactive mode, trying to keep up with the customer. We’re seeing many more businesses that are willing to offer clear and extensive privacy control options to consumers — options that go above and beyond regulations. Consumers, for their part, are appreciative of these options, though there isn’t yet enough data to determine if that goodwill translates to dollars. It’s unlikely we’ll ever have that data (since obtaining it would involve collecting exactly the sort of personal data that people are trying to avoid). Still, there’s enough evidence that being a good digital citizen yields profits over time.  

Sari Stein, Digital Strategic Planner

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