According to the latest market assessment by eMarketer, growing online privacy concerns involve three primary stakeholder groups -- consumers, government and the collective advertising industry. Those concerns have been heightened by recent examples of disclosure failures and the apparent lack of consumer trust in many of the recognized industry players.
People are becoming increasingly concerned about their online privacy. Government entities in the U.S. market and elsewhere are looking to address that anxiety through laws, regulations and new policy pressure on the digital advertising ecosystem.
That last category -- which includes advertisers, ad agencies, media companies, websites, retailers, search engines and related vendors -- is looking to satisfy both government and consumer demands through self-regulation, and tools like Do Not Track (DNT) headers.
"There are many key factors in the privacy debate, including control, transparency and value, along with the concept of privacy itself," said David Hallerman, principal analyst at eMarketer.
Attempts to overhaul online privacy standards and related data issues is believed to be complicated by raised expectations. According to a November 2011 study from the American Consumer Institute, nearly two-thirds of consumers don't trust some companies -- i.e. Facebook -- with their personal information.
But there are obvious ways to alleviate privacy concerns. The public clearly values transparency about exactly what data companies collect and how they use it. They also expect control over their own data. Companies that mock these ideals merely fuel the growing distrust.
What internet users want, according to a survey from loyalty management company Aimia, include knowing what data is being collected, a means to opt in to location tracking (instead of the typical default, opt out) and the ability to set privacy preferences once and make them applicable across sites using a portable profile.
That being said, even though transparency helps to calm some privacy concerns, many online providers are not entirely transparent about their actions -- until they're outed by an informer. Also, user controls that are complicated to invoke will likely be viewed as a deceptive practice.
"The entire advertising ecosystem must continue to come up with more sophisticated methods of self-regulation, such as the DNT header, and to educate both the public and government about how data is used and its importance in the digital economy," said Hallerman.
"To both manage consumers’ privacy concerns and assuage government misgivings, the digital advertising ecosystem will have to realize that it shares -- rather than owns -- audience data."
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