3 Tips for Respecting Consumers’ Online Privacy

Online privacy is back in the spotlight after recent incidents including the NSA spying revelation and changes to well-established privacy laws such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). As these events unfold, consumers continue to harbor significant skepticism toward online service providers. This skepticism only grows as consumers learn more about how these companies collect data about their online activities and how companies put that data to use.

As marketers, we recognize the value in having this data available to us to provide improved services and experiences. But as skepticism mounts, marketers need to address customer concerns. Here are three things to consider when evaluating your company’s privacy position.

1. Ensure you are clear and transparent — in plain English.
Lawyers likely wrote your site’s privacy policy. This is great, since you’re focused on marketing issues, not legal issues. But make sure you clearly articulate how your company gathers, uses, discloses and manages data. Your policy should clearly share what data you are using. A University of California, Berkeley, study found 40 percent of consumers weren’t sure if a free, advertising-supported site was allowed to collect information about users — even though the site had a privacy policy. Programs such as AdChoices will tell consumers what data is being used to provide targeted advertising. The program also gives consumers the choice to opt out of such advertising. Make sure your brand’s policies are not just approved by legal, but the average consumer can use them to make an informed decision.

2. Make sure you give and don’t simply take.
Let consumers know how they benefit from you collecting their information. If there is a value exchange, and you’re clear about how you are using the data, remind consumers what they are getting in return for the exchange. Some options for doing this include: providing access to free online content; giving discounts for online service; delivering exclusive promotions and other cost-saving content; serving consumers informative advertising that’s based on their interests, instead of what can be considered clutter. One brand that does a great job of articulating this value exchange is Upworthy.com.

3. Follow well-established best practices.
Spend time understanding how other companies in your space handle privacy matters. It’s even worth conducting a gap analysis against those best practices — actively implementing a program designed to meet those standards. Get ahead of the law and avoid being in a reactionary position as privacy laws continue to evolve. There are a number of great resources aggregated on sites like TRUSTe.

Make no mistake, Internet privacy will remain a complicated issue full of conflicting interests, misinformation, innuendo and technology snafus. Marketers want to know as much as they can about consumers, whereas consumers want to be in control and share as little as possible. But if it’s approached proactively and correctly, this complication can turn into an untapped opportunity to improve a brand’s connection with consumers.

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Mitch Dunn
Mitch Dunn

As the SVP of Integrated Strategy at Empower, Mitch ensures that consumer insights are at the heart of every decision Empower makes on behalf of our clients.