Europe’s GDPR took effect in May 2018, but 2019 was the year privacy got real for marketers in the U.S. There was a convergence of legal, technological and cultural factors that forced brands, publishers and tech companies to confront privacy head-on in ways they’d been trying to avoid for years.
CCPA comes into sharp focus
The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was passed in 2018 and came into sharp focus this year, as January 1, 2020 has approached. As we draw closer to that implementation deadline, the IAB, DAA and a host of software companies have introduced “compliance frameworks” and tools to help marketers and publishers address the requirements of the act.
However, there’s still considerable corporate foot dragging and uncertainty. That’s consistent with what happened with GDPR compliance. Indeed, many companies operating in Europe are still not fully compliant more than a year and a half later. With CCPA, there won’t be any enforcement actions before July 1, 2020, giving affected marketers some additional time to get in line.
For much of 2018 and early 2019, big tech companies and industry trade groups criticized and fought CCPA — trying to weaken it with unsuccessful amendments – because of anticipated compliance costs and fear that more limited access to data would harm revenues or disrupt the ads ecosystem. That very much remains to be seen.
The war on third-party cookies and ‘bad ads’
In September, Firefox launched Enhanced Tracking Protection, which included default third-party cookie blocking. Apple updated Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) to strength anti-tracking and cookie blocking capabilities and rules:
- ITP now downgrades all cross-site request referrer headers to just the page’s origin. Previously, this was only done for cross-site requests to classified domains.
- ITP will now block all third-party requests from seeing their cookies, regardless of the classification status of the third-party domain, unless the first-party website has already received user interaction.
Google Chrome, which controls 64% of the global browser market, also expanded third-party cookie blocking, claiming it was doing so in a smarter way (than Apple). And in July, Chrome rolled out ad filtering on a global basis. All ads that fail Better Ads Standards are now potentially blocked.
The rise of ‘surveillance capitalism’
This was also the year when the ominous term “surveillance capitalism” entered the digital lexicon and became mainstream, appearing in books and news articles, culminating in a December 21 NY Times editorial “Total Surveillance Is Not What America Signed Up For.”
China is the leading example of the dark side of digital technology, in the service of domestic surveillance. But in some ways, America isn’t that far behind. And mobile-location tracking is at the center of the debate over privacy and personalization in this country.
Technology companies, which went from being seen primarily as job creators, innovators and purveyors of social good, have been increasingly vilified. Facebook, in particular, stumbled badly in addressing privacy and data scandals it confronted over the past few years, captured in the Netflix documentary “The Great Hack.”
But most technology companies, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, have failed to educate consumers and the broader market about the value of their services and methodologies. As a result, often sensational journalistic pieces filled the void and helped fuel popular distrust.
Consumers are now highly concerned and even fatalistic about technology and privacy. It’s to the point where 90% of consumers said they would click “do not sell my personal information” under CCPA. We’ll see if that actually happens.
Conclusion: Privacy is your friend
A cultural and legal Rubicon of sorts has been crossed. Privacy will now be a central feature of the user experience going forward. Privacy-conscious consumers will reward companies that are more transparent and shun those that are opaque or manipulative. One could argue the failure of Facebook’s Portal smart display is a byproduct of a lack of trust in the company.
Ethics and trust will also be critical features of a brand’s long-term value. Indeed, there’s early evidence that privacy is becoming a competitive advantage. The way forward for marketers involves a wholehearted embrace of privacy and the creation of genuine value for consumers in exchange for their personal data. There really is no other alternative.