Privacy Matters: What You Need to Know

Social Media PrivacyOne of the best ways to drive website traffic and begin the customer conversion process is via social media — often part of an integrated marketing program. Social media is an exciting digital channel that offers immediacy, scalability, reach, and customer insights which are not normally available with traditional media.  Similar to its other digital channel siblings, social media provides an abundance of visitor data for marketing analysis.

The formation of strong customer relationships is essential for business success, requiring marketing to understand not only customer demographics, but also data activity points such as online purchase data, browsing behavior, social media interactions, mobile device usage, and more.  At the same time, consumers want to be heard, recognized, and desire a more personalized experience when interacting with businesses.

A great amount of personal data must be collected for user personalization and to ensure the best possible experience for the customer across all touch points.  Social networks also need to collect as much personal information as possible, not only for optimal user experience, but also to sell more advertising.

The good news is that the privacy policies and practices of businesses are generally good and comply with privacy legislation.  However, the social media networking world is still in its infancy, just like the Internet was in the 90’s, and is gradually coming up to speed on transparent privacy policies and protecting users’ personal information — partly because of current or impending government legislation and a desire to keep privacy advocacy groups at bay.  It’s also good business to protect your user community.

In Canada, privacy legislation is well developed. Companies must ensure personally identifiable information is stored safely and used for the original purpose it was collected.  This is one of the core principals of The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which offers some measure of control for the consumer along with an available recourse through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

In the US, many states have privacy legislation in place.  The most notable privacy laws are found in the state of California. The California Online Privacy Act requires any website that collects personally identifiable information on California consumers to post an online privacy policy — it must describe categories of information collected, third parties allowed to view this information, how the website will notify consumers about changes to the policy and the date of the policy.

In Europe we have strong EU directives on privacy as indicated with this excerpt:

“Member States shall ensure that the storing of information, or the gaining of access to information already stored, in the terminal equipment of a subscriber or user is only allowed on condition that the subscriber or user concerned has given his or her consent, having been provided with clear and comprehensive information… ”

The most famous privacy legislation found in the EU is known as the “cookie directive” in which European-based websites must first seek permission or consent from website visitors before installing cookies on their devices.

As far as data ownership on social networks, the law in the US states factual information (personal data) is largely excluded from intellectual property law.   When translated, this means social media users do not own their personal information found on social networks — an important thing to remember.

Facebook offers an important case study on data ownership, privacy practices and policies.  In 2009, the Canadian Office of the Privacy Commissioner brought forward a case against Facebook, bringing about major changes to the social networking site’s privacy related statements:

  • The need by third party application providers to first obtain express consent by users to access any of their personal information
  • More user details and understanding on the differences between deactivating or deleting an account
  • Better privacy protection for non Facebook users invited to join the social network
  • Clearly stated polices, including meaningful consent, regarding the accounts of deceased users

Details of the Privacy Commissioner’s case can be found at Facebook agrees to address Privacy Commissioner’s concerns.

Interestingly, it is quite often the users themselves who frequently breach the privacy of others by disclosing personal information.  Social media network providers should not be held responsible for the actions of network participants, but can rely on standards of conduct to shut down users who don’t comply and exhibit inappropriate behaviour online.  In a 2009 Facebook blog, the social network stated that it would not tolerate “bullying, harassment, unwanted contact or offensive behavior from others” and wanted to make “Facebook a safe and trusted environment.”  Consumer trust is essential for all brands.

According to the Facebook Privacy Policy, it doesn’t share personally identifiable information such as a user’s name or contact information with advertisers.  Only anonymous, aggregated data such as ad views or click-through rates to help advertisers better optimize their campaigns:

“We only provide data to our advertising partners or customers after we have removed your name or any other personally identifying information from it, or have combined it with other people’s data in a way that it is no longer associated with you.”

For more information, read data privacy information advertisers receive in Facebook’s Advertising Guidelines.

Unfortunately, most social networking participants have no idea how their personal information is being used.  People simply don’t take the time to read the privacy policy or adjust privacy settings according to personal needs.  Think about this the next time you check off “the box” during the initial registration process and the personal information you provide.  What did you just consent to? Who has access to your personal data?  What can be learned about you when public data from all of your social networking sites are strung together?  Privacy indeed matters.

I welcome hearing about your thoughts on the roles and responsibilities individuals have and privacy issues in general.

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