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Why it’s time to stop paying lip service to privacy

A woman applies lipstick while looking into a vintage mirror with a login screen on it.

Semantic satiation is the phenomenon when the repetition of a word or phrase causes it to temporarily lose all meaning to the listener. It's something that many of us – especially marketers – are suffering from when it comes to the word 'privacy'.

There are obvious reasons why there is so much talk about privacy. The final deprecation of third-party cookies – whenever it actually happens – is chief among them. On top of this, businesses across the US are struggling to deal with a patchwork of privacy regulations that vary from state to state, making necessary marketing practices such as data collection and consent notifications a headache. There are also ethical reasons why privacy should be a conversation topic. How a company deals with consumer data can impact its reputation, but being responsible is also good for business and, most importantly, it is the right thing to do.

Many businesses in ad tech appear to be trying to take ownership of the word privacy. Some companies, that have built their business on combining datasets and brokering data, are using terms such as privacy-first, privacy-safe, and privacy-centric. The upshot of this is brands and media owners wanting to find the right technology partners have a tough job on their hands.

As the industry navigates this landscape, it must ensure that privacy standards are not just superficial claims but are embedded in actual practices and technologies. Establishing clear criteria for privacy compliance will be essential in avoiding a situation where privacy promises may be merely lip service. So how does the industry do that?

Marketers should read the label carefully

While Google has recently shifted the deprecation of third-party cookies in the Chrome browser beyond its 2024 deadline, this is only a temporary stay of execution. Besides, there are other compelling factors for marketers to consider. Consumer awareness of how data is stored and used has never been greater, and the fast-shifting regulatory landscape dictates that the potentially problematic, intrusive marketing methods of the past must be scrapped.

As a result, many brands and media owners will be looking to build new ways to target consumers and measure the impacts and outcomes of advertising campaigns to mitigate this signal loss. They'll have to think hard about which alternative methods to use – Privacy Sandbox, probabilistic IDs, persistent IDs, and first-party data are all options – then assess which partners they should be working with.

When it comes to selecting partners, brands need to read the label carefully. When a company says it is private, legal and privacy teams must closely scrutinize these claims and dig into the inner workings of these technologies to understand what they are buying.

Marketers can't rely on a vendor's black box solutions if they don't fully understand how they work or what happens to customer data when it passes through their systems. Brands must ensure that the data is protected while at rest, in transit, and in use. Additionally, if a company has made a commitment not to share customer data with third-parties, then they must be certain that their technology partners are equally committed to this principle.

Interpreting the spectrum of Privacy-Enhancing Technologies

Brands wanting to accurately assess vendors' privacy claims must familiarize themselves with Privacy-Enhancing Technologies, otherwise known as PETs. There are three broad principles behind PETs. Firstly, they can help organizations minimize the use of consumer data when working with partners. Secondly, they prioritize the security of data in all forms, wherever it is stored. Thirdly, they protect the relationship with consumers in such a way that brands can be open, honest and transparent about how data is being used.

One of the most important things to understand about PETs is that they exist on a spectrum. At the very basic end of the spectrum, there are technologies such as hashing and encryption. Looking at the other end of the spectrum, there are technologies such as Private Set Intersection and Secure Multi-Party Computation. These PETs provide a basis for specific use cases, such as enabling two or more organizations to compare their datasets to calculate the intersection of the data.

For organizations that want to use their first-party data to enable multiple marketing use cases and further enhances data protection, the best approach to PETs is to build in layers. PETs are most effective when used in combination, and the right blend depends on the specific use case. With access to the whole suite of PETs, businesses can adapt to each and every use case in the most secure and private way possible.

Collaboration driven by consented data delivers better ad experiences

The days of sharing customer data indiscriminately across dozens of partners throughout the advertising ecosystem are behind us. The future of marketing lies in trusted collaborations powered by consented first-party data and underpinned by technologies that genuinely protect customer privacy. Brands can use their data to drive efficiencies, explore new revenue streams, and create better advertising experiences through ethical partnerships with other brands, publishers, or platforms while staying true to their customers' instructions and maintaining better control over their consumer data throughout the whole process.

It's vital that businesses understand the true meaning of privacy and which technologies best serve their needs, and put vendors' claims to the test before committing themselves. After all, taking privacy seriously is key to maintaining consumer trust and enhancing business reputation for all players in the advertising ecosystem. Ultimately, embracing privacy as a core part of any business, rather than simply seeing it as a box-ticking exercise, will benefit publishers, advertisers, tech partners, and consumers alike.

This op-ed represents the views and opinions of the author and not of The Current, a division of The Trade Desk, or The Trade Desk. The appearance of the op-ed on The Current does not constitute an endorsement by The Current or The Trade Desk.