Brands, consumers and marketers are currently all pondering how the widely publicised potential revision to EU Data Protection laws might impact them, but Malcolm Duckett, VP Operations at Speed-Trap, argues that an early industry-wide push for responsibility and transparency will put the digital marketing industry’s future into its own hands.
Nobody knows for sure what the EU legislators are planning, but what we do know for sure is that the UK Home Office is in the process of revising ‘RIPA’ (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act), which allows communications to be intercepted. It extended a deadline for consultations on the Act into the middle of December, following an EC ruling that, contrary to European law, Britons have no legal redress if they feel their communications, including their use of websites, have been wrongfully intercepted.
This is against a backdrop of hysteria surrounding the increased power of the imminent HTML5 that will allow websites to collect more data from their users, even though this is already being done through advanced cookie technology.
Such legislative changes are likely to have dramatic effects on the data-reliant marketing industry – even restricting activities that have hitherto been typical, if not essential.
In our own hands
However, amidst the headlines, blogs and comments that have been attempting to predict what will happen, a crucial point has been missed. The online marketing industry can actually take matters in to its own hands. If we can show we have our proverbial house in order, the British government will have a greatly reduced requirement to enforce new Directives with zealous vigour, just as it will feel less need to bring in draconian measures when better aligning current laws to the EU Directive they were interpreting.
Here, we can take a leaf out of the UK drinks industry’s Portman Group. By proactively educating consumers and retailers about the dangers of irresponsible drinking, alcohol brands have won universal praise and, at the same time, taken their future into their own hands rather than waiting for new regulations to bring issues to their attention.
So what can the digital marketing industry do across its many diverse channels and throughout players including advertising and marketing agencies, brands, retailers, publishers, affiliates, networks, exchanges and aggregators, who together make up the sometimes nebulous ‘digital’ world?
However, if you feel there are elements of your activity you would rather not shout about, then now is the time to look at data protection.
Ok to share?
It is a personal opinion but I think that many consumers are spooked by how sites share users’ browsing information through advertising exchanges – or at least they would be if they knew the full story.
Some brands may think it is perfectly reasonable for them to follow a person on to a third party site and retarget them with offers and many publishers who offer behavioural targeting and retargeting to the advertising industry would no doubt agree.
I am not so sure that this feeling would be shared by all consumers if those brands and publishers outlined exactly what information they share with other sites and how their cookies identify an anonymised person’s interests and browsing history.
It may seem a simplistic comparison but I believe that many people are fine with a site they use remembering their preferences and suggesting good offers in the same way they are happy for their corner shop to remember which newspaper they take. Where the line can be crossed is the equivalent of when that same corner shop offered you, on a personally targeted basis, cream or ointment for the rash the local GP told them you had.
However, if this is not made clear, then the entire industry cannot be surprised if legislation is handed down to make the process more transparent.
For example, the way in which some behaviourally targeted adverts are marked with a symbol which can be clicked on for further information on how the person was targeted and how they can opt out is a good start. Hopefully this will be expanded upon when the IAB formally launches a formal scheme to do just this. Combined with clear privacy policies, this could show regulators that the digital marketing sector is taking its responsibilities very seriously.
It is only by the entire industry taking it upon itself to act in a reputable manner and by treating data with the respect it deserves that digital marketers can do what the drinks industry has done and take its future in to its own hands. Otherwise, we will be constantly looking nervously over the horizon fearing how a lack of action today could lead to unwelcome regulatory change tomorrow.
By Malcolm Duckett