In the true spirit of this July 4th holiday, let us unite around common truth. America the beautiful is a porous rat hole of consumer privacy, inadvertently fomented over 25 years by both Republicans and Democrats. Ironically, let’s enjoy a moment of bipartisan political togetherness on this Independence Day.
As the United States grew quickly in a Wild-West sort of way, so did digital marketing technology explode, as pioneers plowed their way into new territory. No government on earth, except for totalitarian, was equipped to handle the privacy implications of emergent martech. To this day, most US marketers have radical consumer-profiling, privacy busting capabilities at their fingertips in the form of Google, Facebook, twitter, Oracle, Microsoft, and numerous other tools/channels/platforms.
No political party or American president is solely responsible for the marketing data privacy Wild West that America is witnessing today. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, W. Bush, Obama, and Trump have rode shotgun down the Internet avalanche.
Here are but a few standard data hacks most American marketers enjoy today:
- Build highly segmented lists without permission: Using any number of services, marketers make lists of visitors to specific web pages and the targeting that got them on-page each time. The resulting technology, retargeting, allows us to follow people visiting many other sites, all over the Internet. For instance, you look at a gardening tool on Amazon, and you’ll see Amazon ads for the tool on Facebook and while you’re reading online news. Also, Facebook and YouTube permit marketers to build lists of users who engage in various ways, including watching specific videos. We can then follow those users in-channel. Whereas the CAN-SPAM Act has laid heavy rules on email list usages for years, much of the non-email marketing data ecosystem is still a bit like Dodge City during the Wyatt Earp days.
- Associate targeting with CRM data: For both keywords (search) and psychographics (social targeting), it’s easy to keep track of customers’ extremely personal characteristics and search engine queries. For instance, we can know an individual prospect or customer searched for “Chevy pickup truck dealer,” earns about $50K a year, is extremely left or right wing politically, lives in St. Paul, MN, loves his guns, is single, did not graduate from college, etc. Placing such data in the CRM next to Joe’s customer record is crazy powerful – and perhaps a bit frightening on its face.
- Map email addresses to targeting on other channels: While CAN-SPAM prevents marketers from emailing people who have not opted-in to an email list, it’s exceedingly easy to target the same people in other channels using their email address. The user has no idea they’ve been targeted via an email list they did not authorize.
- Retain & process data indefinitely: In terms of technology, it’s possible to warehouse marketing data associated with individual users – forever. Also, data can be parsed and used to follow you with retargeting, target other people algorithmically similar to you (lookalikes), send an email, and even predict your future behavior. Each is an example of a data process. In America there are few, if any, rules for how we process marketing data.
GDPR, Europe’s recently enacted rules for the protection of personal data inside and outside the EU, breaks new ground in protecting privacy. Under GDPR, the aforementioned hacks and much more are prohibited without informed consent. Marketers are not allowed to require such consent for standard site usage and can’t degrade the site experience upon refusal. At first marketers were freaking out, as if ol’ Wyatt Earp came to town and ruined all the fun. Then they went to work seeking permission. Early indications are that an astonishingly high percentage of European consumers DO grant permission. Whilst most marketers we know hate and/or are afraid of GDPR, Aimclear has always viewed GDPR as a creative advantage.
In the hands of inventive, pioneering marketers, using data to support selling and socializing is often a wonderful, life affirming endeavor! Aimclear helps travel engines earn customers, B2B vendors generate leads, canoe outfitters rent cabins, and so many other wonderful goals. We use data to empower consumers on their journeys. As long as data is available in a jurisdiction, we’ll use it responsibly and creatively to serve customers and fellow community members.
1998’s Child Online Protection Act took kids off the marketing table early. Calfornia and Vermont have recently taken initial steps to protect privacy. We expect, hell we CALL for federal legislation similar to GDPR, so long as it’s constructed with more technological savvy. Crafted properly, America can do a better job protecting privacy while creative marketers still drive amazing results for clients. GDPR is pretty stupid in some areas though well-intended, functional, and seemingly not a barrier to marketers. Until then, let’s all sing “America the data pit,” where privacy means companies don’t reveal all the sh!t they do with our data. You don’t have to say “Yes,” and can’t say “No.
So, let’s all be together today, party affiliation neutral and politicly agnostic. We are one nation under marketers’ thumbs. Happy Fourth of July, American marketers.