The Digital Marketing Dilemma: Finding the Balance Between Privacy and Personalization

March 4, 2020Admin


A few weeks ago, big news broke about Facebook and privacy: The social network giant will pay $550 million to settle a class action lawsuit for systematic violation of an Illinois consumer privacy law.

It is widely known that Facebook collects facial recognition data on images of users for purposes such as automatic tagging. However, that goes against the state’s 2008 Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

Sparxoo Trends Guide 2020So now, the majority of Illinois Facebook users from 2011 to 2015 will receive as much as $200 each in compensation.

This is an extreme example of what can happen when the attempts at digital personalization become skewed toward an invasion of privacy.

Yet, it’s also an example of a violation of trust, and digital marketers need to remember that trust is vital: According to Consumer Affairs, 75% of users said they would not buy from a company, no matter how much they like the product, if they don’t trust them to protect their data.

This was one of the key points we explored late last year when we published our Digital Marketing Trends Report: How can digital marketing professionals strike the proper balance between privacy and the personalization clients and social media users demand?

Do Smartphones Violate Our Privacy?

Is the news about Facebook’s cavalier approach to the use of our data really all that shocking? Controversies – real and imagined – have spawned rumors about our smartphones secretly listening to us for some time now.

If you’re out of the loop, here’s what we mean:

Imagine that you mention a product to a friend. You never look it up on your computer or smartphone – we already know how that type of advertising works – yet somehow, when you’re scrolling through your social media accounts right before going to bed, you notice an ad for the exact product you only mentioned verbally.

Spooky, right?

We think so, too.

But is there an explanation? Do our smartphones really eavesdrop on us? Are we constantly being watched through the webcams on our laptops? Is our privacy in jeopardy?

Probably not, according to research conducted by Consumer Reports. Does that mean there’s nothing to worry about?

Let’s just say it’s wise to be aware of the potential for privacy lapses in the digital world – and take precautions to help your clients secure their data.

New Tech, New Privacy Challenges

While we are lucky to live in the era when technology is advancing so rapidly, we should also be aware that with progress comes new privacy challenges.

Consider how sophisticated advertising networks have become. There are a number of effective options for companies like Google and the social media platforms to record your personal info without having to listen in on your conversations.

For example, they might simply ask for it – your name, email, phone number, birthday, address, even credit card information. We share these things online almost every day, often without thinking about how this info is going to be used by advertisers to try and sell us something.

Another thing to keep in mind is the prevalence of location services connected to apps and GPS. Many apps can track where you go throughout the day, unless you turn location detection off in your phone settings.

That said, if you visit a Nike store for even a few minutes, it is possible that you soon will see an ad for some sneakers.


And then there’s YouTube. A lot of the videos creators share are sponsored by various brands, which often is how we learn about new products.

Now, if the product caught your attention, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to look it up right away. Maybe you will bring it up at lunch in a conversation with your friend.

Then boom, later in the day, you receive an ad for that one product you talked about earlier. You never conducted a search for it, but the sponsors of the video felt the need to remind you that they exist.

Don’t be creeped out. It’s all about audience targeting – and about those small text files called tracking cookies, which are used to collect specific user data.

The Privacy-Personalization Balance

Don’t underestimate the individual targeting power of Facebook and other social media platforms. Facebook openly talks about collecting information about photos and videos you post and like, hashtags you follow, and groups you’re connected to.

On top of that, they also collect data from other websites that use Facebook plugins, login and widgets. That is 8.4 million websites, by the way.

Targeted advertising likely is here to stay, though. As long as consumers and companies use social media platforms to connect, social media companies will monetize their services through advertising.

In cases of remarketing, that means using tracking cookies to re-introduce messages to potential customers at a later date. This tactic can only go so far, though, because savvy consumers who’d rather not be stalked days or weeks later by ads online are blocking cookies or regularly clearing their search histories.

This is yet another challenge for digital marketers, who are charged with finding ways to integrate those ads seamlessly into the browsing and search habits of their target audience.

We can do that by coupling an advertising message with content that truly attracts, resonates, engages and informs or entertains users. Give them assets like white papers, e-books, interesting infographics, funny or otherwise emotional videos, access to a podcast or newsletter.

There has to be an equitable trade. After all, we’re asking consumers to give up some of their privacy by revealing their personal information – the kind of information that can help us as marketers understand how best to deliver a product or service to the right person.

We owe it to them to make that trade well worth it.