World Wide Web Watchers Watch Out

photo by rpong saj

photo by rpong saj

By Guy Mastrion

I was thinking more about my post Is Big Media Holding Us Hostage? and I started nosing around, doing some more research on the topic to see what else I could find on the subject. I came up with this very informative and well crafted article in Strategy & Business, the Booze&Co. publication. The article is called Watching over the Web, (hence my riff above) and is co-authored by Thomas Kɬºnstner, Manuel Kohnstamm, and Stephan Luiten. Here’s the link:; you will have to register to access the editorial but I promise it will be worth it. This article clearly lays out the issue of security on the web and its many ramifications.

Then I picked up this post from Adotas, by Edward Barrera, “Online Privacy Advocates Want Congress To Deal With Targeting Now“. In his post, Barrera points to a coalition of ten consumer and privacy advocates lobbying congress to enact legislation around consumer privacy.

In my earlier post, I expressed a desire as a marketer for more information, but as a consumer I want to feel protected from intrusions in to my personal life. These articles put a point on some of the things I talked about and broadened my knowledge. The Booze&Co. article really unpacks the issue of security, placing concerns of privacy in the bigger context of security. And the Adotas post points to the momentum afoot to address the privacy issue at a government level.

Should the media industry begin to self-regulate on these issues? What do you think? Would it be better to propose a set of best practices that keeps all on firm ground and doesn’t violate personal privacy (this is certainly one measure security). Should we be concerned that without some industry endorsed best practices, something terrible will happen and the stage will be set for stringent regulation and, even worse, a loss of consumer trust? Loss of consumer confidence is the last thing our industry needs and, more important, the last thing the economy needs. In part, it was a great deal of greed and ignorance that got us into this economic quagmire and it has created the exact type of desperate business climate that may compel someone, somewhere, to push past the limit of responsible behavior. If recent history has reminded us of anything, it’s that our government can not protect us from disasters engineered by the unscrupulous and that the unscrupulous will continue their work.

The holders of our collective data are sitting on an enormous responsibility and while they are set to gain the most from its dissemination they also hold the most risk. Who better to work out a set of best practices? Who better to work with government, industry and advocacy groups to set out a plan to protect privacy, respect our rights and lead us to a place of confidence, security and greater trust? Maybe the wheels are already in motion.

If our big media and technology companies wish to remain leaders in the new economy they will need to step up to this task (in ways both public and private) to demonstrate that they are credible owners of security and privacy for their consumer and business customers alike. It seems essential to the long-term viability of their own brands. As a consumer, I’d like to feel a greater sense of confidence about how digital media is working to limit deeper insight into my personal life and how whatever information remains out there is going to be sold and used.

As a creative director and marketer, I want insightful information to help me sell my clients’ products in ways that are meaningful to consumers or that allow them to truly understand how a product or service might benefit their lives. But I certainly don’t want to violate their trust in the process. For any brand, the loss of trust is the kiss of death, be it at the hand of too aggressive a tactic, the failure to deliver on the brand promise, and even through the brandishing of too much insight into the personal lives of its customers. For smart, respectful marketers who take a long-range view to brand building, access to deep personal information would likely not be used in abusive or offensive ways. But the risk is there and the fact is it makes many folks nervous, especially with regard to health, healthcare, insurance and finances. If a brand chooses to do business via digital media, then the channel must be secure because the interface is the brand at that moment of customer engagement. And in that moment trust is gained or lost.

We’ve already experienced numerous cases of credit and identity theft and although terribly violating, disruptive and costly to the individual and the banks involved, it seems like the tip of the iceberg when considering the full potential of what’s possible with stolen information at a corporate level.

Would a public set of industry-wide best practices really matter? Certainly, every successful company seems to have its own internal guidelines, policies and best practices; it is essential. But maybe a public, industry-wide effort would settle down the issues. Is this self-regulated, self-governed market the best solution? Would new laws or guidelines written specifically to digital media and marketing cause more aggressive marketing tactics? Would they matter when the will of even one unsavory character can tarnish a whole industry?



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