I feel conflicted about online marketing and privacy.
On one side, there are my personal feelings, on the other, my feelings as an online marketer. As a human being, I used to feel violated knowing all the things that are tracked about me online. Who gives Facebook the rights to check which websites I go to and check who I call on my phone? Not just Facebook, Google and many other companies can also track my online searches, website visits and locations I’ve visited. Do I want these companies to know all of this about me? I feel they know more about me than I want them to know. Yet since I became a growth hacker, knowing all this information about people is great. We can target people with products that we know for sure they’ll like because we have all this data on their preferences and behaviour. I also know that this data is used to improve the experience for me as a user and I enjoy this experience. This makes me feel conflicted, have I stopped caring about privacy? In this blog post, I’d like to dive into privacy and online marketing.
Why do these companies gather all this data?
For you to return to Facebook and Google continuously, they need to offer you exactly what you are looking for when you use their platform. By gathering all this data about you, their algorithms allow them to show you exactly what you (might) like based on your online behaviour and demographics. This way they won’t show you posts, search results or ads you won’t like anyway and only see stuff you will like. So, gathering this data is to help you have a better experience on their platform.
Why do we feel violated?
Privacy is a basic human right, as for us to present ourselves the way we want to in a group, we’d like to have control on how the group perceives us (1967) (Marx, 2001). Privacy allows us to behave freely without damaging the image one has carefully crafted towards others. What happens when we are unable to influence how “someone” perceives us? We are powerless. Our response to situations we cannot control yet influence our ability to survive in the group, is either anger or fear (The Social Psychology Of Groups, 1959). Thus, we feel violated.
What can we do about it?
That’s where GDPR comes in. To reduce the amount of information companies can gather about you as a person, the European Union came up with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). These rules state that you have the right to be informed on what type of data they gather from you (usually found in cookie statements), you have the right to access the data they gather on you, the right to change the data they have on you and the right to request them to erase the data they collected of you. If we want to, we can ask any company to hand over any data they have on us.
What would this mean for online marketers?
If people were to exercise their rights, it would make it harder for us to target the right person. Our target groups would become a lot smaller, as we can only target people on which we do have information. We would not be able to target people that would be interested in our product, simply because we don’t have the data on their interests. We would not be able to use data to learn about our customers, about their interests and demographics. Targeting the right people would become a guessing game.
Are we going to do something though?
There are whistleblowers, movies, scandals on what kind of data big corporations such as Facebook and Google track explaining how little privacy we have. Yet, still 1,63 billion people use Facebook daily (Facebook, 2019) and 3,5 billion searches are made every day on Google (S., 2019). Why don’t we stop using these platforms? Why don’t we all request these companies to delete all the data they have on us? By law they are required to do so if we ask them for it. In the Helsinki Privacy Experiment (M. Gagné, 2005), the scientist aimed to figure out how we respond to being watched all the time. Would we change our behaviour? Turns out, we might change our behaviour at first, yet forget about being watched over time. Perhaps the same is true for Google and Facebook, at first, these revelations shock us, yet over time, due to habits, we stop caring and continue our behaviour as we did before knowing about these privacy invasions (Acquisti, 2015). Since the start of the GDPR regulations, less than 0,1% of people have taken the effort to make use of their newfound rights (Open Rights Group, 2019).
Our privacy is violated to offer us better online experiences. We have the rights to regain our privacy, yet we do not appear to use these rights. My assumption here is that if our online experience is better because of the data gathered about us, we won’t exercise our rights to regain our privacy. For the user, the pros out weigh the cons here. Companies will continue to make use of the data that is gathered about us. And for now, as we have the rights to do something about this, yet choose not to use this right, this is fine with me.
(1959). In H. K. J.W. Thibaut, The Social Psychology Of Groups. Oxford: Wiley.
(1967). In A. Westin, Privacy and Freedom (Vol. 1). New York: Athenaum.
Acquisti, A. B. (2015). Privacy and human behaviour in the age of information. Science, 347(6221), 509 – 514.
Facebook. (2019, October). Stats. Facebook newsroom: https://newsroom.fb.com/company-info/
M. Gagné, E. D. (2005). Self‐determination theory and work motivation. Organizational behaviour(26), 331 – 362.
Marx, G. (2001). Murky conceptual waters: The public and the private. (3), 157 – 169.
Open Rights Group. (2019, Maart 25). GDPR in numbers, 3. GDPR Today: https://www.gdprtoday.org/gdpr-in-numbers‑4/
S., A. (2019, March 18). Google statistics in 2019. Techjury: https://techjury.net/stats-about/google/#gref