There are a few words floating about the digital sphere currently: Privacy and Ownership.
Both interrelated, and both very sensitive subjects: What is considered the private realm? Do you own what you write or the information you publish? Who has the right to see it? What laws govern the WWW?
Only Thursday, the EU Privacy Directive’s guidelines came into force – interpreted and enacted via local legislation (I say only, as digital laws are so far behind the reality of where we are on a day-to-day technological basis). The aim of the Directive is to protect and inform consumers of their online rights and also to show how their data is being used to target them with advertising across digital devices.
A worldwide issue
The big problem? Local market interpretation of the EU directive could vary widely; some markets are considering an automatic opt-in, and others the potential red-tape measure of having to opt-out.
There are ethical and user-friendly ways to overcome these problems, but the bigger issue is that the rules are flexible and open to interpretation, and we still haven’t achieved a worldwide set of rules.
And it does have to be worldwide, not just EU or USA-based. This is where the problems lie – how is it possible to have a worldwide rule on privacy when the market is open to mobile app developers from Asia, bloggers from the USA and programmers from India?
Currently, the main complaints over privacy have come from social media sites and behavioural targeting – controversies over Facebook and BT’s trial of Phorm software have been at a focus of this (not to mention privacy issues in the UK with the unmentionable Ryan Giggs).
The marketer’s dilemma
So at what point does the use of personal information for marketing purposes become an invasion of privacy? As we make our personal details more abundantly available, it is becoming easier and more common for marketers to use this information for commercial purposes.
There is a dilemma that faces marketers: a contradiction in research that shows that even the public have not decided on what is acceptable “65% of consumers believe targeted advertising is an abuse of privacy, but at the same time, 64% of consumers think advertising tailored to their individual tastes and interests is a good idea.”(Ged Egan, 2011)
The long and short of the regulations is that people need to understand how their information will be used and the benefits to them of providing it. “Mutual benefit” is word that allows helps us to feel less guilty about the relationship for an opt-in service. In marketing speak it allows the public to consent to creating a dialog with the brand – while setting the volume and level of information they receive (whether through incentivisation, or general interest in the brand).
It seems as if there aren’t going to be strict guidelines ruled at a worldwide level. Indeed even European level guidelines are open to interpretation. But as ethically-minded companies, influential legal cases and the general public’s education of the internet increases, we may see more legislation starting to catch up with technology. I don’t doubt it will always lag behind – the lines of the private realm will remain fuzzy while we all have the freedom of speech.