In this episode, the guys continue the previous discussion about the evolution of digital analytics at a basic foundational level and the ethical considerations marketers should consider. Chad shares a personal story about being considerate of feelings of intrusive marketing practices and Nico advocates for more ethical leadership in the advertising industry.

In the first part of this episode we cover:

  • How ad tracking works
  • Why ad tracking exists and how advertisers use it
  • What companies like Google and Facebook know about you, just from following your digital breadcrumbs
  • The advantages of ad tracking for both marketers and consumers

In today’s episode we discuss:

  • Main privacy violation rules
  • Cases of privacy violation that actually made it to court
  • Ethical aspects of ad tracking
  • How can the ad industry improve

There have been many attempts to create a single privacy protection standard: 

In Feb 2020, Kristen Gillibrand, Democratic senator from New York, proposed the creation of a Data Protection Agency. This federal agency would enforce US laws on data privacy and conduct investigations into potential violations.  As with any such legislation in the United States, the concerns of business and industry are weighed heavily (some would say far too heavily) in the process.  As of this recording, the website says the act was introduced on February 13th, was “read twice”, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. It hasn’t been discussed or voted on since.

Out of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Zoom, the worst offender when it comes to violating users’ privacy is arguably Facebook. Repeatedly, to concerns about users’ privacy, Mark Zuckerberg has issued statements or given testimony before government bodies, in which his response has essentially amounted to: get used to it

Zoom’s terms of service not only give it the right to extract data from users and their meetings, that data can (and does) also make its way to advertisers like Google. Since more and more public attention has been drawn towards ad tracking, and consequently to Zoom, in particular, the video call service has quietly rewritten its privacy policies.

Unsurprisingly, one of the companies that finds itself on the wrong side of protection issues the most often is Google.  In 2012 Google was ordered to pay $225 million to settle charges that claimed the company lied about user data privacy in Apple’s Safari browser.  In the fall of 2019, Google (and YouTube, which it owns) were fined $170 Million after being sued by the Federal Trade Commission and the Attorney General of the state of New York for illegally collecting personal information from children without their parents’ consent. 

In May of this year, the state of Arizona sued Google over allegations it illegally tracked Android users’ locations, even when they’d turned off location tracking settings.  Just this summer in June, Google was sued for $5 Billion for supposedly tracking “private” internet use. The class-action lawsuit alleged that Google was tracking millions of users’ activity even when their browsers were set in private or “incognito” mode. 

Marketers don’t need to steal private information to get what they need in order to barrage consumers with ads because most of it is signed over willingly when the user clicks ‘agree’ on the terms of service. Companies like Google and Facebook may (or may not) have their ulterior motives for violating privacy laws, but when it comes to plain ol’ marketing, consumers have already given advertisers everything – they don’t need to lie to get it. 

What about our responsibility as an industry? Shouldn’t we be advocating for the privacy of our audience?  So far, the ad agencies and the ad industry as a whole have been pretty quiet on the topic of privacy. Still, more and more voices are starting to come out in favor of balancing ad targeting with the need to protect our fundamental human freedoms. At the very least, marketers should be at the forefront of the discussion about how the tools we use, the tools of our livelihood, are regulated and controlled.  There’s enough skepticism about advertising without it being actively, knowingly harmful. Aside from not actively advocating for their consumers’ privacy, many marketers get it wrong when they hide behind the technology they use for advertising.  What marketers could do rather than hide behind their digital advertisements is put themselves in front of the technology to establish a personable human connection with the consumer.

What Can Be Learned?

  • Consider whether your primary focus is to maximize technology in your advertising or to think of your customer first before then approaching technology with the intention to add human elements and market from that point forward.
  • If you decide on the latter, then technology takes the backseat and focus on figuring out how to generate the right ingredients for your company so that the marketing is more likely to write itself: a solid product, a solid team, and a cohesive, innovative, and good company culture.
  • Keep in mind that ad tracking is not inherently human-centric but was designed to drive sales and those sales ad tracking is designed to help achieve are short-term, not long-term. Episodic marketing is efficient but not nearly as effective or beneficial as long-term strategies.
  • The Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated. If companies aren’t algorithms, then customers aren’t clicks. If companies show their consumers respect, then consumers are likely to also show them respect in addition to long-term loyalty.

We talk about:

[01:00] Rules set by the government
[04:20] Which company is violating privacy rights the most
[09:55] Important ethical aspects
[12:50] Where marketers get it wrong
[23:05] Technology, human connection, and marketing

Episode Script Writer: Grace Wall
Research Analyst: Gertruda Gilyte

Enjoy the show!

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