One of the slipperiest parts of the online privacy issue is understanding just how important consumers consider controlling their digital identity. Ad technology providers often contend that consumers may register a high sensitivity about privacy issues in surveys, but in practice relatively few actually use the preference management tools that some networks and publishers are beginning to offer. But managing one's online profile with data collectors can take many forms. For instance, in a recent study done for data management platform Krux Digital, 52% of adult respondents said they already take "an active role in managing their digital signatures."
That management of data and online tracking takes a variety of forms. A fairly sizable number (38%) say they use opt-out tools. Now, those opt-outs could refer to anything from an email unsubscribe button to visits to the NAI ad network opt-out resource. But the basic statistic suggests there is a sizable interest among consumers in having a degree of control over how their identity is used online.
The survey also showed that 30% already use the "private browsing" feature. Personally, I don't even know where the private browsing feature is on the Firefox and Chrome browsers, let alone remember to use it. If almost a third of consumers already use that feature, one has to wonder how many more will adopt it as browsers make the tool a more prominent part of their product differentiation. Private browsing mode is a very blunt instrument that essentially blocks all identity tracking without discriminating even trusted content sites that are personalizing the experience. The fact that users concerned with privacy would choose this tool over more selective browser plug-ins (18%) suggests people may not want to spend much effort fine-tuning their data.
The problem with consumers taking data into their own hands is the fragmentation of the resources. Where does one start, and to what degree does tweaking an interest preference at a Google or a BlueKai influence your travels elsewhere? Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, NAI, and several data and ad networks all have discrete data management tools. But from the consumer's perspective, are a wealth of solutions like this much better than none at all, if users have no idea how much of their online footprint they affect? The Krux survey found, not surprisingly, that 85% of respondents would use centralized data management tools to control their online profile if they were available. If these numbers are even vaguely accurate, then consumers want something from the industry that it is far from providing: a true one-stop privacy shop that affects their data signature everywhere.
One of the interesting insights the Krux numbers suggest is the value of the first-party publisher relationship in establishing trust in online privacy. The survey found that 86% are fine with the idea of viewing ads in exchange for free content. It is within that context that we need to better understand where users place their trust in this value exchange and the degree of intrusiveness they are willing to accept. For instance, 57% of respondents said they are accepting of data tracking and ad targeting on a specific site. That is, they are most accepting of data tracking when it involves a content brand they already know.
About two-thirds of those same people also say they want some transparency and control over how the data is used. Interestingly, the number of people who accept ad targeting plummets when that data goes off-site and out from under the umbrella of a first party. Only 27% said they were okay with the idea of using their data to target ads to them on other sites. And when asked pretty much the same question another way, whether they were accepting of a publisher sharing anonymous data for targeting elsewhere, only 22% agreed.
The first-party relationship is going to be critical not only to managing data, but also to establishing the consumers' trust that marketers will operate transparently in a digital world of hyper-targeting. The Krux research found that providing data control has a very positive effect on a publisher's relationship with the user. 54% of respondents said they would have a "much more positive" feeling toward a site if it allowed them to control their data. And that trust translates into greater flexibility for the marketer. Eighty-one percent of survey respondents said they would be willing to share even more information about themselves with a site if there was a clear exchange of value for them in doing so.