The Value of Privacy, Security and Integrity in Marketing

True to the fact that there needs to be a face behind the cause, I find myself at odds with being both concerned about my privacy online yet hopeless in being able to defend my stance on much needed privacy rights, security and integrity as a digital marketer.

Privacy

As marketers (and in sales), we’re programmed to serve and look to provide as much relevant information as possible for our clients to support the cause and to act as a point of contact to get the brand name legitimately heard. Yet as a privacy advocate I find myself at odds and concerned about my right to privacy.

Having spent a number of years in sales roles where physically being present and making yourself transparently available to clients is key to successfully building rapport and trust that leads to successfully closing the sale, it still comes as a subsequent shock that this conditioning of being ‘out in the open’ has had little impact on my comfort level in having my information out there online. Only able to limitedly control the information that is out there, its dissemination and use, it is actually in the online space where I feel most uncomfortable, open to like-minded digital marketers getting the expose online.

Which lends to me ask, are we still our personal brands’ guardian fiercely protecting the dissemination of our personal brand and information or has being online simply reduced us to being a host of the information we provide?

In digital marketing, especially with the rise of social media, one of the basic aspects is for information sharing, participation and collaboration. For branding, we’re looking more and more at the co-creation of brands with users through real-time data sharing and interaction where branding is becoming likened to an open source activity.

Yet it’s important to ask, is creating brand equity critically losing you control of your personal privacy? What have we compromised our privacy for?

– User interaction: We’re no longer dealing with a single relationship between the brand and user, but also the relationship between the staff of brand and user and the way users interact with each other about our brand. Especially with the volatility of social media and online, there is a loss of control that comes with having information about ourselves and our brand made available online which at times stretches much beyond my comfort zone.

– Frontline branding: Whether we like it or not digital marketers are as much in a customer facing role as sales staff are, just with a deceptive veil of the World Wide Web shielding us from face-to-face interaction. Every article and comment on social media reveals a little bit more about the writer. Without needing to get psychoanalytical, even reading vaguely between the lines, we can gather general personal views and personalities of users from each interaction.

– First hand sources: I’ve always justified my stance on information as that it is better to personally feed up the information first hand than for someone else to go digging and gaining it from a secondary source or playing Chinese Whispers resulting in facts being misconstrued – the same applies for branding, both professionally and personally.

– Publicity: is a vital part of branding to build relationships with stakeholders. We hear a lot about building topical conversation in networks as a means to branding and communications – to build a reputation that influences end-user perception, creates a strong and consistent brand and builds value in the eyes of the client. But are we becoming too reliant on word of mouth communication and interaction in getting ourselves and our brand heard?

– User tracking and the world of PPC: How much information provision and monitoring of networks to gather information is too much? Especially with various networking analytic and clickstream data programs for monitoring the end-user to see what works and what doesn’t which is fundamental to marketing strategy, the entire notion of effective marketing practice contradicts the notion of privacy both for the end-user and staff involved where gaining publicity comes at a personal risk to the cause.

Which leads us to…

Security

I get a tonne of views for this site, for example, from India, China and the U.S even though I’m based in Australia, mainly because my interactions online mainly deal with U.S companies and outsourced data and contact centres in India (though they beg to differ that they are still U.S or EU based). With the vulnerability of information being exposed to numerous unknown eyes from around the world, it’s important to keep in mind some basic privacy protection measures.

Personally, what are some basic tips and tricks for marketers and bloggers to reduce spam and to prevent data miners from getting their hands on your more vital personal information?

– Use different emails for accounts – Emails are usually a security verification that companies use to verify your account and it is vital that it be kept secure from prying eyes.

– Never list your number – If chance be that there is on occasion a need to publicly list a number use a second number and make sure to be listed on a Do Not Call register.

– Keep small talk to a minimum – Professionally, in sales, we talk a lot to build rapport, yet it’s important to keep in mind that there’s really no need to reveal every inch of your personal life, such as where you eat, what you eat and where you frequent. This information only makes online stalking easier, which translates to an issue for offline safety.

– Use aliases – Social platforms such as Linked In make your professional information and work history readily available to the public. Yet if you’re running a blog or other online past times, it’s best to use aliases or in more severe cases where your views or recreations may be controversial, remain anonymous.

– Turn off cookie retention and beware of hostile applets – Aside from always remaining weary of cookie based advertising through targeted pay per click advertisements, I’m always weary of Java which is known to design hostile programs that can surreptitiously access and transmit data on hard drives, including email addresses, credit card records and other account information. Turn off those cookies and be weary of emails and downloads from obvious unreliable sources.

– Basic privacy tools – Your meta-data is loud and transparent and in many cases revealing the most vitally secure information such as what you get up to with your finances or where you frequent. There are some basic tools as listed by privacytools.io that provide an added layer of encryption from Pretty Good Privacy for email, to proxies for Internet connections, NoScript and Adblock plus for blocking internet based advertising, to TOR for social media use and general forum use or the like. Though it is not recommended to use platforms such as TOR for banking as this will simply raise a red flag with your bank, it’s a handy resource for surfing the net and sign ups to platforms where you would prefer to have your IP remain anonymous.

Integrity

With the relatively short time since the enforcement of legislation that governs company and client use of the Internet, there are still times when marketers are verging on the grey in terms of our integrity to maintain privacy agendas whilst gaining the upper hand on data collection. Data-driven marketers ashamedly resemble the schoolyard gossip, much as journalists resemble your nosy neighbour, always needing to be in the know of the latest happenings of the market. Without this information, there’s little to work with to target your audience and personalise content. Yet how far would you go to gain audience information?

With obvious ethical and legal ramifications in mind there are also some basic privacy policy guidelines that represent a consensus regarding the minimum requirements in the ethical use of client information. These being:

– Notice: Be aware of a sites information policy before you provide data that can be collected. Marketers need to keep in mind the provision of notice to users for the protection of their personal information. Aside from Google’s history with verging on grey privacy policies such as being able to wiretap your hangouts, Google made the mistake in misrepresenting their privacy practices in 2009 with their messaging tool called “Buzz”. The application was embedded into the Gmail program and allowed users to chat and share photos and other information aside from basic email but failed to abide by privacy standards in requesting prior consent from Gmail users for the new service. As it happens, social networking serves a different purpose than general communication via email, where it was deceptive for Google to introduce the service without providing their email users an option to opt out.

– Consent: You should always be given a choice to participate or be excluded from collection. A case was made when the U.S. Navy was able to obtain from AOL the personal  user data of a serviceman who was suspected of violating military rules concerning homosexual conduct. The case was thrown out of court after it was found that the Navy’s request violated federal privacy law which led to an apology and compensation from AOL.

– Access: You should always have the ability to access your data and correct it.

– Security: Most of us don’t read the policies and Terms and Conditions properly unless we’re lawyers, but policies are in place for the prevention of misuse and to maintain the integrity of your data. Recently, there’s been some debate raising the need for online platforms to provide bullet point summaries of their Terms and Conditions prior to the opt in function in a ploy to provide greater access for users to easier to read guidelines, which undeniably will raise the user awareness for all and is much supported by the greater client community.

– Enforcement: There should be an effective means to hold data collectors to their policies. Growing global attention is being paid to issues of personal data protection amongst international businesses to call for data privacy standards and legislation to respond to a climate where we’re becoming increasingly software oriented and connected online. Aside from the number of data retention schemes that have recently been brought to light by governments to cater for legal liability provisions for companies to pass on your data for ‘national security’ reasons such as in the U.K. U.S, Australia and China, some countries are doing better than others to meet the heightened demands for the protection of personal information. The Singapore government for one enacted the Personal Data Protection Act a few years ago that contained several additional requirements for organisations, say to appoint at least one person who will ensure company compliance with applicable privacy legislation to industry-specific standards.

As marketers, we should all keep in mind that technological advancements and setbacks in privacy legislation shouldn’t stop us from being actively involved in the development of additional recommendations for the Internet community that would help improve personal data protection. In this case, knowing too much about your client and jeopardising consumer confidence could be more detrimental than staying within this framework and avoiding unnecessary risk for legal and ethical complexities.

 

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Hoi Sze Lam

Hoi Sze Lam is an autodidact of all things digital marketing, and is a privacy advocate with a keen interest in cyber affairs. Given the time she reads, breathes and follows good food, wood fires, travel and technology from down under.

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