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Policy / DCN perspectives on policy, law, and legislative news surrounding digital content

The case for context

February 18, 2016 | By Chris Pedigo, SVP Government Affairs – DCN @Pedigo_Chris

Rob Norman, Global Chief Digital Officer for GroupM, recently spoke at Industry Preview 2016 in January. He said, “If privacy and the policies that create an advantage for some are reexamined and unbundled the extended ecosystems of targeting, ad deployment and attribution are going to start to look like a Swiss cheese. They will be full of holes with bells on. Real context – and this is good for the publishers and the creators of content – I think will rise in value.”

Given that digital advertising on the wider web is the least trusted form of advertising  and that increasing numbers of consumers are boycotting it altogether, Norman’s point is correct: context is key. For advertisers and publishers, delivering relevant advertising within an appropriate context is going to rise in value.

But, just as importantly, context is key to meeting consumer expectations. When a consumer’s data is collected and used only to enhance their experience within a single website or experience, they are much more likely to trust that site. Unfortunately, consumer trust is low today. As noted in TRUSTe’s 2016 Consumer Confidence Index, “74% (of consumers) have limited their online activity due to privacy concerns.”

In recent years, public policymakers have called on industry to give more controls to consumers over how their data is collected and used – in short, to respect context. President Obama’s Privacy Bill of Rights framework noted that “consumers have a right to expect that companies will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.” To the extent that a consumer’s personal data will be used outside the context where it was collected or for reasons not disclosed at the time of collection, the President called on companies to provide transparency and choice to the consumer.

In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a report, entitled “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change.” The FTC’s report noted that “whether a practice requires choice turns on the extent to which the practice is consistent with the context of the transaction or the consumer’s existing relationship with the business…”

This much is clear: consumers are not happy. As noted by TRUSTe, they are taking active steps to limit their online activity. And without transparency and meaningful controls, they are downloading ad blocking software in record numbers. Even advertisers are not happy because there is little transparency about where their ads are being shown and whether they are being shown to actual humans.

Our industry needs to do more to provide transparency and meaningful tools for consumers to express choice. By respecting context in this way, we can improve consumer trust in the digital ecosystem.