Part of the reason we love interactive marketing is its potential to be so relevant and personal as to rise above the noise and, dare we hope, actually be welcomed and appreciated by consumers. While interactive marketers today struggle with technical complexity, fragmented marketing infrastructure, and a lack of resources, Unica and others are striving to overcome these issues. The bigger long-term challenge may prove to be evolving privacy rules, regulations, and mores.
Most government efforts to tame the forces of technology seem to me mostly hopeless, potentially inconvenient, and occasionally amusing. I bet some other marketers share this view, especially those who know Frank Zappa’s song about the Tipper Gore record labeling hearings. CAN-SPAM fit this narrative. But Tuesday’s NYTimes article “How Privacy Vanishes Online” shocked me out of bemusement. It described how “seemingly innocuous bits of self-revelation can increasingly be collected and reassembled by computers to help create a picture of a person’s identity, sometimes down to the Social Security number.” For example:
- MIT students analyzed Facebook profiles and learned how to predict whether or not a profile belonged to a gay male, with 78% accuracy
- University of Texas researchers showed that data Netflix released for their algorithm content “could often be ‘de-anonymized’ by statistically analyzing an individual’s distinctive pattern of movie ratings and recommendations.”
- Two researchers from Carnegie Mellon “could accurately predict the full, nine-digit Social Security numbers for 8.5 percent of the people born in the United States between 1989 and 2003 — nearly five million individuals.”
This is the kind of stuff that could prompt serious action, perhaps of a sort that snuffs out both bad and good aspects of online data collection. Like the EU “cookie consent” regulation winding its way through Brussels.
Even old regulation already on the books can hinder marketer’s use of new media. For example, FDA regulations requiring disclosure-of-risk information in print and broadcast ads for pharmaceuticals clearly don’t make sense for 12 word Google ads or tweets (click here for more about pharma’s calls for new media guidelines).
And by the way, it doesn’t take government to complicate the rules of interactive marketing. I’ll bet that Facebook’s continuing efforts to balance user privacy with filthy lucre will cause groans aplenty from marketers.