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  • Writer's pictureGabriella Marzola

Direct 2 Community: LinkedIn Newsletter by ConsumerDirect

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"Collecting data consumers leave online, and using it to market products is a key mechanism for reaching customers that executives are now fretting about."

It seems as if there is a new story of a company getting busted for violating their customers' data privacy terms, and the reason is often the same: sharing data with third parties. Recently, two different telehealth companies were fined for sharing customer data after telling patients they would not. In both cases, the FTC required the firms to change their data protection practices and halt sharing customer information. Both companies settled their cases but denied wrongdoing.

BetterHelp, an online counseling platform, said that it was accused of using "limited, encrypted information to optimize the effectiveness of our advertising campaigns so we could deliver more relevant ads and reach people who may be interested in our services."

Here's where it gets interesting…

BetterHelp suggested that it had been unfairly singled out since "this industry-standard practice is routinely used by some of the largest health providers, health systems, and healthcare brands." If the reasoning is, "Well, everybody else is doing it," does it make it right?

When a select few professional baseball players started using steroids between the late 1980s and early 2000s, their reasoning for using performance-enhancing drugs boiled down to one thing: staying ahead of the competition. During the 1998 MLB season, McGwire and Sosa began a two-person race for the single-season home run record that captured an entire nation. At the time, it was unknown to most people that McGwire and Sosa were using anabolic steroids.

"Steroids can seem necessary to compete at the highest levels, and the quick rewards can outweigh the long-term consequences to the user's health." - Howard Berman.

Compare that statement to a recent opposition statement to Florida's new data privacy bill:

"Florida small businesses say the targeted advertising helps them compete against larger businesses...and that they will lose money in profits if they have to pay more for advertising that doesn't work as well."

Much of marketing and advertising is centered around human psychology. What makes people want to buy things? Marketers will gather information to build robust user personas to answer that question in order to serve their consumers better and understand their target audience. What if they had access to a complete profile of a person, not only their age, gender, race, and location, but also what they like on Instagram, their past purchase history, their friends, podcasts they listen to, shows they watch, books they read, etc.? What if they could find thousands of others just like them and send ads directly to their devices? That would change the game, and it has. 

The "steroid era" has unquestionably changed MLB, just as consumer data gathering has changed marketing. Today, MLB is doing everything possible to repair its breach with America, but the trust between consumers and advertising may be damaged beyond repair. Every time you see a targeted advertisement, you are thinking, "How did they know that?" The convenience of targeted ads has turned into a concern among the public, and legislation has yet to catch up. 

"Advertising does not have to be privacy-invasive to be valuable or effective" - Cobun Zweifel-Keegan, managing director of the Washington office of the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

So how can marketers and advertisers gain the public's trust? There are firms that are changing the conversation, creating solutions that prioritize consumer data privacy. One example is Ogury's personified targeting which uses a unique set of personification data at scale for highly relevant mobile web targeting without the use of invasive user data, identifiers, or device graphs. As technology continues to advance, there will be more opportunities to exploit customer data, but also more opportunities to make better, safer customer experiences. 

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