Advertisers, Publishers, and Consumers Have a Role to Play in Data Ethics

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By Aphrodite Brinsmead, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Permutive

Following regulatory pressure and information about privacy in the media, consumers are more aware of the ways their data is used for advertising. And they indicate that they care. When Apple released its App Tracking Transparency controls in May, only 17% of users permitted apps to track their data fully. Similarly, a Forrester study from 2020 showed that only 15% of consumers think it’s ok for companies to track them across devices for advertising.

Browsers are taking a stance by blocking third-party cookies and fingerprinting. And on mobile, consumers now have the option to opt-out of data tracking within apps. However, there’s still a long way to go before the advertising ecosystem takes data ethics and privacy seriously. Many players are taking a wait and see approach, preferring not to go through the tough transformation required unless they really have to. But in order to stop poor data ethics, everyone must take a stance as soon as possible. From consumers to ad tech vendors, we all need to look into who we share data with and educate ourselves on privacy best practices. We need to reset practices across ad tech.

The gap between consumer opinion and behavior

What consumers say and do aren’t always aligned. Many continue to use services that rely on personal data to participate. There’s an element of convenience of using digital services that means consumers don’t always think about repercussions. They might complain about ‘creepy ads’ following them around the web. But few have changed their online behavior. Facebook is still the most-used social platform in the world with 2.79 billion users globally, and over 200 million in the US, despite frequent complaints about its data standards.

One factor that explains consumers’ hesitation to stop using certain sites, is that they don’t necessarily understand how frequently data is really misused in the advertising ecosystem. Although they’ve heard about public lawsuits and seen cookie restrictions, there’s so much that happens behind the scenes that they’re unaware of. And until a consumer is the subject of fraud or identity theft, it’s easy to ignore. Consumers require better education in order to make empowered decisions about which businesses they choose to engage with.

Additionally, consumers do accept the value exchange. Facebook and Google are dependent on consumer data to grow their revenue and consumers have become habitually dependent on them to communicate and browse the web. They know that using social media, searching for information or reading news content, for example, will likely come with a transfer of data. Tailored advertising is expected in exchange for free access. While consumers are happy to pay for some services or publications, there’s a limit to how much they can afford or realize added value from.

Data ethics will be increasingly important

 For the first time in 2020, independent analyst firm, Gartner, added Data Ethics to it’s Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing. Analysts stated that ethics will have a “transformational impact on marketing in five to 10 years.” The World Federation of Advertisers also launched its first guide on data ethics for brands. Progress is being made. But there are still lots of questions as to how the advertising ecosystem can deliver performance and addressability while prioritizing data ethics and privacy.

Everyone in the advertising ecosystem, including consumers, has an opportunity to start making changes for the better. As we move forward it’s essential to review data usage and understand our role, both in the workplace and as consumers in influencing future data ethics.

  • Consumers should consider what happens to their data when they share it with brands and publishers – While brands must provide transparency around marketing and allow opt-outs, consumers have the power to look into the values of the organizations they chose to do business with. They should decide when it makes sense to share personal information, such as an email address and carry out regular digital data reviews. Consumers should consider opting out of marketing within apps and websites that aren’t transparent or trustworthy.
  • Advertisers must ingrain permission into their activities and only use data where necessary – While understanding consumer trends is important for advertisers to determine media spend, they don’t necessarily need to collect every piece of available data. Advertisers should consider which data is essential and gather explicit permission from consumers for marketing. Finally, advertisers should evaluate technology and data partners to ensure they have similar values.
  • Publishers should protect their data, and share clear data practices – Publishers need to take back control of user data and ensure it retains its value in the ecosystem. They should put data ethics at top of mind when selecting technology solutions and consider what happens to any data they share externally. At the same time, they need to think about the value exchange with users and prioritize user experience. As publishers focus on increasing authentication rates, they must clearly describe their data practices and offer easy opt-outs. User relationships are vital to future proof their businesses and must be protected at all costs.
  • Technology providers should focus on privacy-preserving solutions rather than workarounds – Tech providers should bake privacy and data integrity into their products, giving their customers the ability to retain control of their own data. New solutions should be created to help publishers and advertisers move the industry forward ethically rather than trying to recreate tracking with new identifiers. Providers must closely follow legal and browser changes, preempting further privacy updates rather than adapting only when it becomes mandatory. 

While the future of advertising may not be entirely clear, one thing is certain; privacy and data ethics must take a central role. As new solutions emerge to target audiences, both organizations and consumers must play a role in creating a more transparent and secure ecosystem.