Analytics, measurement and to-the-‘T’-geo-targeting that the digital space boasts of could become the bane for marketers in the near future. User and consumer data – that built Google – can bring it down too. The signs of worried Google are imperative in the manner the search giant is shoving Google+ down the throats of its users. To comment on YouTube, you have to sign into Google+; leave a comment or rate an app on PlayStore, sign into Google+. Where does Google feel left out? The data-mine that its competitors, Amazon and Facebook, have in terms of not just the name, gender, age and location but also in consumer behaviour and how they react, what they buy and so on. Both Facebook and Amazon can dig this goldmine to sell it to marketers in a unique customised way.

But the bigger question is how much do Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon combined know about us. Once on these sites, I am immortal. I may try hard to wipe off my data, but I will leave enough traces behind. So does anybody care about privacy? Are we on Facebook or Twitter or even on Google+ to get connected and share things with friends or are we there to fuel data and open up my life to marketers?

Early this month, Rob Norman, Chief Digital Officer, GroupM Global was in New Delhi to deliver a keynote address at a digital marketing meet. He scared the audience, painting a George Orwellian world, straight from the celebrated author’s much acclaimed book, ‘1984’. Norman declared, ‘privacy will be redundant’. Norman was echoing Sun Microsystems, Chief Executive, Scott McNealy’s words, famously said way back in 1999, during a product launch, “You have zero privacy anyway, get over it.”

Norman expects devices and content to understand when a consumer is communicating and who is important to be part of that communication. “The digital fingerprints, despite what regulators say, will not be private. Increasingly, demands would be placed upon us for technology to tell the truth about us. Privacy, as we understand, will create a divide between the discoverable and the undiscoverable,” he said.

He had a word of caution for the segment who have or would have objections to being discovered. “The discoverable would be judicious of what they want discovered. And there would be some prejudice against the undiscoverables because it would be seen that when you don’t want to be discovered, you may have something to hide,” he said.

But all’s not lost for the consumer. As the concern for privacy grows on the internet, and many people switch off their Facebook accounts – even though the number of new users on the social networking site is hundred times more than the switch offs – there are concerted efforts in the digital world to provide clean data, and without tracking personal data. The user-base of these services is significantly small right now and Google need not worry at this moment. But it’s a threat in real, which Google would acknowledge. And marketers while are just about getting a feel of the digital and trying to learn the jargon of the digital world – largely populated by agencies and scaring the marketer, making them feel digitally challenged and forcing them to handover their digital work to them – marketers should prepare themselves to target the consumers without this data.

DuckDuckGo (DDG) may soon emerge as a threat to Google. Though launched in 2008, but it’s in the last one year that the self-proclaimed ‘search alternative to Google’ has gained lot of attention. DuckDuckGo claims to receive just under 50 million search queries a month, on average 1.5 million a day. But it’s growing at more than 200 per cent month-on-month.

DDG describes itself as a search engine with: way more instant answers, way less spam and clutter, lots and lots of goodies and real privacy.

DDG is built exactly on what Google isn’t and has already received great reviews from The Washington Post,, Lifehacker, The New York Times and ‘Time’ magazine.

Ironically, DDG makes money as Google does – through contextual advertising, but for that as per Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DDG, “You don’t have to track users.”

So how does DDG serve contextual ads. Let’s go through an extract from the DDG Privacy Policy page: “We also save searches, but again, not in a personally identifiable way, as we do not store IP addresses or unique User agent strings. We use aggregate, non-personal search data to improve things like misspellings.

“Similarly, we may add an affiliate code to some eCommerce sites (e.g. Amazon & eBay) that results in small commissions being paid back to DuckDuckGo when you make purchases at those sites. We do not use any third parties to do the code insertion, and we do not work with any sites that share personally identifiable information (e.g. name, address, etc.) via their affiliate programs.

“This means that no information is shared from DuckDuckGo to the sites, and the only information that is collected from this process is product information, which is not tied to any particular user and which we do not save or store on our end. It is completely analogous to the search result case from the previous paragraph–we can see anonymous product info such that we cannot tie them to any particular person (or even tie multiple purchases together). This whole affiliate process is an attempt to keep advertising to a minimal level on DuckDuckGo.”

Another tool that’s emerging fast a threat to marketers is ‘Disconnect’. Founded in 2011 by Brian Kennish, a former Google and DoubleClick engineer; and Casey Oppenheim, a consumer- and privacy-rights advocate and attorney, Disconnect is a browser tool to block tracking. It claims to speed up browsing too as it disconnects the social and analytical widgets on the pages, which are rather used for tracking consumer behaviour.

So what does this all mean for a marketer? They have data, which are as mere as keywords, bereft of name, age, gender and place. These statistics, in the true sense would be like the proverbial bikini: ‘What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital’.

The European Union has been in the forefront to propagate e-privacy regulation and many European states have formulated stringent online privacy regulations. Consumers in the US aren’t that concerned about privacy issues, but there have been lobbies lately – particularly after Google changed its Privacy Policies – that have been baying to curtail Google’s magnanimity. These efforts have resulted in privacy features such as the “cookie option” banners on websites and “Do Not Track” add-ons in major web browsers.

Mark Little, principal analyst at research agency, Ovum, in an Opinion piece written earlier this year, says, “There is a nascent alternative ecosystem for personal data forming that is user-controlled, and permission-based, and that has the power to wrong-foot the comfortable supply lines of Big Data.”

He says that “marketers should not be surprised if more and more consumers look to alternative privacy ecosystems to control, secure, and even benefit from their own data. Marketing departments must focus on building their relationships with consumers more and their data sets less – building smarter profiles rather than bigger ones.

“Consumers have not ‘got over’ having ‘zero privacy’. In fact, in most cultures some level of privacy is an instinctive part of human nature, and the digital advertising and Big Data industries will just have to accept that,” says Little.

When it comes to the Asia Pacific region, privacy concerns are high, considering that many societies are still conservative in their approach. So what does it leave for a marketer? Learn to respect the privacy of the consumer, is the simple answer.

Rather than stealing and selling data, get personal and seek permission. The permission can be sought through online and offline surveys, when the consumer willingly has agreed to share information. These surveys, though provide more qualitative data than quantitative, yet that’s the first step to win over the consumer.

Keep the consumer informed what the marketer will do with the data. Give incentives? I am not sure, yet marketers can be honest about the fact that their birth-dates will help them deliver better service and products, but that they will also use the birth-day to send them free coupons on the big day. Also that the birthday would be used to analyse cluster groups as per the age. Here you are building trust with the consumer and he will respect you more for it.

And above all treat this data as super sensitive and any temptations to sell this data should be strictly averted. Here marketers can learn a bit from the financial sector, where privacy concerns are the highest and there are stringent norms. Consumers allow financial institutes to handle their life savings, based on this trust. For all what we know, soon they will have questions for Google and FBs of the world that may become tough for the digital giants to deal with.

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