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Respecting Individuals’ Privacy (the “R” in RSVP)

AcxiomJanuary 13, 2014

Respecting consumers’ privacy should be a fundamental tenant of our industry and each company’s business practices.  It is a core principle of “RSVP,” a method marketers can use to ensure respect for consumer privacy that I laid out in an earlier blog post.

In the last year, we have seen a number of instances where companies and governments, did something that wasn’t particularly respectful from a privacy perspective. They did this because they could do it, would likely benefit from it, and they didn’t consider carefully enough any negative implications that might befall the individual.

For instance, seven rent-to-own companies and DesignerWare, LLC, a company that licensed software to the companies to help them track and recover rented property, settled with the FTC on charges that they spied on consumers using computers that consumers rented from them.  Among other things, the FTC alleged the rent to own companies and DesignerWare were capturing screenshots of confidential and personal information, logging customers’ computer keystrokes, and in some cases taking webcam pictures of people in their homes, all without notice to, or consent from, the consumers.  As to the government, recent Edward Snowden disclosures about the NSA’s data collection practices point to a number of instances where the NSA did not think about the implications of their actions on US citizens.  We all know where that has gone.

Considering the impact to the individual, in privacy speak, is called a Privacy Impact Assessment (or PIA).  These activities should become the best friend of the marketing department, keeping them out of hot water and embarrassing situations with consumers, out of enforcement actions with regulators, and out of the courts.  It isn’t magic.  It simply is looking at the data you are collecting, the analytics you are performing on it, and the campaigns you are executing, all from the consumers’ perspective.  Ask yourself…

  • Would most consumers be shocked to learn what is going on?
  • Does the data involve sensitive information and could consumers be embarrassed by its use?
  • Could there be any financial harm or discrimination resulting from these activities?
  • Are your campaigns or offers a little or a lot “creepy?” (e.g., does your solicitation make it clear you know something specific about the consumer that few should know)?

If the answer to any of these questions is ”Yes,” then there should be some type of mitigation put in place to reduce or eliminate the issue.  While this sounds pretty simple to do, marketers must keep in mind that all consumers do not consider the same actions creepy.  As the MasterCard study pointed out, there are very different attitudes and sensitivities: What’s Your Digital DNA? MasterCard Study Reveals Five Global Online Personas.  Look at the proposed practice from the standpoint of the most concerned category to best understand the impact.

While marketers are spending a lot of time and energy targeting the right individual with the right message at the right time via the right channel, they should also consider the individual’s sensitivity to privacy and data use matters.  While the offer has to be relevant to be meaningful to the individual, you can kill the interest in it for some, if the offer is delivered in a creepy fashion.

Getting someone to RSVP starts with showing the proper respect for the individual based on their sensitivities.

Key issues to watch include: