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October 10, 2012
Relevance vs. Privacy: More Relevant Than Ever for Brands, Part I
“Privacy is dead, and social media holds the smoking gun.”
So says Pete Cashmore, Mashable CEO. And while Mr. Cashmore may be exercising hyperbole to make a point, his comment certainly is well timed. New figures on consumer concerns about digital security support his claim.
Six recent studies suggest privacy concerns are growing right along with the proliferation of new devices and technologies. For marketers, these numbers add yet another layer of complexity to their efforts to reach consumers with relevant, compelling content. The studies’ implication is clear: Trust and transparency can have a direct impact on the bottom line.
The 98 Percent
For example, one study (Fig 1.) found a shockingly low 2% of U.S. Internet users cited online advertisers and ad networks as groups they trust to protect their online privacy.

 Figure 1
Even the mighty Facebook faces similar security concerns. Of U.S. consumers familiar with the ubiquitous social network, 69% said they were “concerned about the security of their personal data.” These concerns are well founded if you believe Jaron Lanier, the computer scientist who coined the term “virtual reality.” According to Mr. Lanier, Facebook is “selling your lack of privacy to the advertisers who might show up there one day.”
For marketers who build social programs on FB, Twitter, Google+, or other social platforms, this lack of trust now represents a fundamental fact of their customers’ lives online. Brands who want to create advocates must first allay — or at minimum lessen — any fears about security.
Mobile Data Misgivings
Mobile marketers are not outside the loop either. In one recent study, privacy and security were named the two dominant concerns of mobile app users. In another report (Fig. 2), smartphone users said they are less willing to share data with marketers as that data becomes more personal; their names, gender, and age are fair game, but their online behavior, personal photos, or contact lists are not.

Figure 2
A Real Strategy: Transparency First
So how does a marketer address consumers’ privacy concerns but still provide the relevant content and personalized experience consumers say they want? One way, according to search/social strategist Bas van den Beld, is for companies to be up front about how they’ll use the data they collect.
“As long as we understand what is happening to our data and what we get in return, we will be much more likely to be actually give away that data,” says van den Beld. Transparency trumps security concerns, he seems to be saying.
But even as Internet giant Google clearly explained that their new social search tools integrate users’ photos, comments, and other social data, consumers again waved yellow (and some red) flags, as seen here in Figure 3.

Figure 3
Only 15% of those surveyed said they are interested in the more “socialized” search results. Perhaps even more troubling, Google was cited by a mere 4% of U.S. Internet users as a group they could trust with their online privacy.
In Part II, we’ll examine how the issue of Privacy vs. Relevance has become important enough to even make an impact in Washington, D.C. 

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Robert Calvanico is Client Services Director for Living Group, a London-based integrated digital and branding agency. He leads the Living team's New York office. Robert has held management positions at agencies such as Euro RSCG, Cossette Post and Blue Fountain. He is a passionate sports fan and music lover, and lives in Tribeca, New York City.
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