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Data, Tracking, Targeting... How much is enough?

Marketers need to rethink targeting, tracking, privacy, data collection and its ethical usage, all over again. We need to clearly ask, how much of data capture is enough.

When a trainer at a workshop many years back showed a packed audience a dozen ghost sites in the background secretly tracking a user on a famous airlines website, it did create panic. Social media websites had just started to become the darling of digital marketing folks then. Data and privacy laws since then have continued to remain unclear, uncertain yet glorified.

With the big Facebook breach, we digital marketing and advertising folks are expected to take a look at the equation again. It also becomes important to understand how we reached here, the extent of the mess and the areas that concern us as we tread the path going forward.

Some of these areas concern us:

  • Our regular tools and our approach to consumer segmentation, targeting and content seeding.

  • ‘How much of data’ is enough and where does the ethical boundary end.

  • Practices of unethical fans acquisition and data brokerage rampage.

  • Finally, what the consumer wants and the code of ethics.

Let’s take a step back.

Is this data breach something new? Haven’t companies helped clients acquire fans at cheap prices or data brokers with their ability to use big data - connecting dots mapping users' personal information and making inferences for granular targeting?

The key question is whether it affects digital marketing and communication. Yes, but not much, just minor hiccups and some adjustments. We need to understand the real problem. Is it Facebook or how we approach data and the "deep insights” we demand from these social networks? We know, our pitches to brands rest on the richness of consumers’ data and insights we derive, then leading to the ideas we built on top of them. Most of this is around the consumers ‘personal information’, a traditional planner or a digital strategist spending weeks to uncover consumer characteristics, their actions and insights. Folks in digital have always been beneficiary of gaining access to vast amount of user’s personal information, including other aspects like IP, location, device etc. Most ad networks blindly flock to Google and Facebook because these giants promise granular targeting.

As an industry, we may have crossed several lines too. We are all responsible for this insane world we have landed ourselves in.

While we discuss this topic globally, both brands and consumers are in a fix today. Technology and our terrible dependency on it has made consumers to live in a state of continuous ignorance. Their data exposure starts from their browsing history and goes deeper, exposing their likes, tastes, preferences and actions. Additionally, this problem is compounded by social media giants whose entire premise is based on capturing consumer data details of which consumers aren’t really clear about.

Now with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe, and multiple other steps, we hope consumers will know what data is being collected and have the ability to remove their information from the servers if they want to.

We as marketers need to rethink targeting, tracking, privacy, data collection and its ethical usage, all over again. We need to clearly ask, how much of data capture is enough. What is that opt-in or opt-out request likely to be? For once, imagine a No-Data World (NDW), where we have broad segments basis with which we devise campaigns and come out with innovative, non-intrusive ways to reach out to the consumers. Think how we operate in a kid’s world. Advertising may need to get more creative and create deeper meaningful experiences. It may find it a bit difficult to change and adjust, even though it’s minor, but consumers will seemingly adjust too to a privacy-based experience going forward knowing clearly what happens to their data.

Facebook or no Facebook, the data privacy issue needs a wider discussion, though we hope these social giants will take positive steps themselves as opposed to being forced by enforcement agencies. They have a responsibility towards society.

Facebook did publicly apologise and stated that it would ensure this would not happen again. The practice of making users believe it’s all about connecting the world and then hiding privacy terms under complex reams under settings needs to go.

The era of mass customisation and micro addressability is being revoked and the future is about to change, yet again. Let’s be honest, to start with.

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