June 8, 2022

The future of data collection

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In this final post of the series about digital privacy, I include less academic sources and more of a discussion and reflections on the current state of privacy, the various responses by the industry and thoughts on the future of data collection practices.

The two-sided market model is not a new concept. Since the very beginnings of media, the “Sale of eyeballs” has been at the center of the financing practices for content producers. But the emergence of new technologies has created large asymmetries in the personal data market, granting significant power to website owners and advertisement networks to collect unprecedented volumes of data, aggregate and match data amongst themselves and track individuals behaviors to an extent that violates the basic human right to privacy.

Issues of fairness, safety and ethics have been made public, as users generate content of great value to advertisers, and see little to no return on the value of what they are giving up.

Legislation in the western world has made strides in controlling this information flow and attempting a default to privacy and giving people better control of their data. Nonetheless, through knowledge of users, tricks of design, overwhelm and poor user experience, in practice, the user still has very little control over their data privacy.

Regulation struggles to keep up with technological advances, and users lack the online privacy literacy level required to make informed choices, so is there a way a forwards? Lately, some of the biggest players in the industry, Apple and Google, have taken steps that hint at a shift in mindset.

Google announced what has been called by the media “The death of the cookie”, essentially phasing out support for third-partyWhat even is a cookie? cookies in their Chrome Browser. Although Firefox, Safari and Microsoft had already made this setting the default in their browsers, Chrome is the number one used browser today, and accounts for more than half of the web traffic on mobile and desktop. This privacy pivot by Chrome has digital advertisers concerned for their ability to track, segment and serve ads to audiences.

Apple on the other hand has made changes through the rollout of iOS 14.5 and iOS 15 privacy features, including the “Ask app not to track” pop up, essentially prompting users to opt in to tracking on every app they use after the update or for the first time.

A second move known as Mail Privacy Protection allows people to to opt in to mail privacy features that mask IP addresses and block third parties from tracking email opens or other IP data, and it even goes one step further allowing people to chose the “hide my email” option when creating accounts and signing up for promotions, this way their personal data is not compromised but they can still receive communications in their inbox.

This change is a win for privacy, but has caused significant worry in among marketing industry professionals who worry about the impact it will have on their marketing strategy, particularly email marketing.

“Buyers get to be in charge of the data they share; not sellers. And big corporations shouldn’t get to create markets for tracking and selling personal data, giving them an information advantage over smaller businesses, this means that each individual company, large or small, will need to get better and better at building trusted relationships with their audience, earning the right to learn who they are and what they’re interested in.”

Will DeKrey, HubSpot’s Group Product Manager of Campaigns

Both of these announcements have the marketing industry scrambling to come up with new ways to collect and analyze data and while new technologies will most certainly be developed to fill the gaps created by these changes, one can be hopeful that there is a change of mindset within the industry and that a wave of self-regulation, privacy by design and consumer empowerment in the horizon.