Are We Losing Sight Of The Consumer In Consumer Privacy?

Younger generations that grew up online are more comfortable sharing data in exchange for relevant ads, things that arguably make life easier and cheaper, such as discounts and one-click checkouts. They’re more likely to allow websites to save their passwords, link credit cards, and provide an email in exchange for a discount. And they are 3 times more likely to opt-in to tracking compared to Boomers, according to a recent study.  

If the paradigm is shifting towards wide acceptance of data sharing, transparently in exchange for things that make life easier, it begs the question: is the industry focused on solving privacy in a way that will perceivably, unequivocally, make consumers’ lives better?  

The Google privacy sandbox, alternate identifiers and contextual targeting all aim to mimic the recent—and also distant (looking at you, contextual targeting)—past. And in today’s world, while we wait for the giant lightbulb moment, the most apparent change consumers experience is the constant pestering of pop-up banners on most sites asking for their opt-in consent to use a cookie to track them. While it (literally) checks the compliance box for companies to continue to collect the nearly extinct cookie, it’s mostly an annoyance for consumers—even if it’s in service of protecting their privacy. 

Younger generations like Gen-Z value brand trust worthiness and company values far and above anything else that influences brand loyalty. This moment marks a prime opportunity for the ad industry and brands to collaborate with consumers to simultaneously safeguard private data and improve the advertising experience—instead of dumbing it down to early-aughts levels of sophistication. Open up any webpage in Chrome Incognito mode, and you’ll get a glimpse of what the future could look like without a solid solution for the precise targeting everyone is used to today. As a 34 year-old female, I was served ads on for free hearing aid trials and men’s sneakers. This does nothing but waste money and create frustration.   

The news coverage data privacy gets is bogged down with acronyms and legalese that most laypeople aren’t even likely to click on, let alone read. In an attempt to protect consumer privacy, the industry at large is alienating them from participating in what that could really look like. If consumers are looking for a quid-pro-quo (in this case, data for value), it gives brands the opportunity to create an ideal flywheel:

Offer something of value, collect first-party data, drive sales, repeat.

As for wider industry initiatives, it’s not lost that this is an extremely tall order for an overly complex ecosystem. And it seems like the actual beneficiary of this body of work—the consumer—is getting completely lost in the sauce. But, this can be avoided if the industry takes a people-first approach. If consumers are provided with an opportunity to get real value from their data, this can lead to improved advertising experiences, in turn fostering a healthier internet economy for advertisers, platforms, publishers and consumers alike.

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