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The Importance of Privacy in Digital Marketing

The Importance of Privacy in Digital Marketing

How many times has an advertisement for a product appeared on your social media feed while you were having a real-time conversation about a similar subject? This is the subtlety and sophistication of the world of digital marketing, a world heavily reliant on customer data, as it is beneficial in providing a more targeted, and personalized experience to a customer.

Moreover, accelerated internet penetration in India, along with the proliferation of mobile telephony, has increased the user base, leading to scaling up the volume of personal data points provided to content, e-commerce, and social media applications and websites at unprecedented levels. This trend of providing personal data instead of a personalized user experience attracts a host of privacy considerations, such as data permissions, user consent, profiling, and informed data sharing.

Reliance on Data

Since the advent of the internet, the marketing industry has experimented and leveraged new mediums in ways that are beneficial to its clients. Marketing is integral to businesses all across the globe given that it can prove to be extremely profitable if done the right way. From market research to advertising, a good marketing strategy can make a business float, sink or thrust ahead.

When it comes to market research for the digital medium(s), data analysis is crucial as it facilitates not just the development of the right message, but also understanding how to reach the right person with the message, be it through search engines or social media platforms. Using data related to markers, such as age, gender, past purchase behaviour, and geographical regions, marketers can create personalized advertisements that strike the perfect balance between what the business is selling and what a consumer is looking for.

This balance rests on the bedrock of thousands of cookies that lie semi-dormant in our browsers, analyzing our web-surfing patterns, noting the time we spend on a particular video or a photograph, our cursor movements on a particular social media post or the listings or articles we read and share over the internet.

One could safely say our online personas are a culmination of multiple layers of data, data that the marketers depend on to create accurate personality profiles for them to deliver the right product, and services, which we as consumers appreciate due to the salient personalization aspect of it.

Regulatory landscape and privacy considerations

In India, currently, Section 43A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 read with the Information Technology Rules (reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) would amount to the applicable legal regime vis-a-vis privacy requirements for organizations.

The tipping point for a serious discussion on the need for a comprehensive privacy law came with the Supreme Court’s judgment in KS Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr v Union of India which recognized the right to privacy as a part of the right to life and personal liberty.

However, India is on the cusp of introducing a privacy law, the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019. It was tabled in Lok Sabha in the winter session of the Parliament (December 2020).

If passed in its current form, PDPB will likely increase the cost of operations for organizations’ marketing campaigns. The impact would be due to the requirement to obtain explicit consent from users before processing personal data and inform the user about the nature and categories of personal data collected, along with the purpose, including profiling, for which the data is processed.

Hence, it is prudent for organizations to initiate their readiness efforts to integrate privacy as the backbone of their processing activities. A few best practices are as follows.

  • Transparency and consent: Ensure you actively seek permission from your perspective and in-life customers, to contact them for marketing purposes only if their consent is in place. Therefore, a pre-ticked box that automatically opts a user will not cut it anymore as opt-ins need to be a deliberate choice. Additionally, consider prompting users to add themselves to your mailing list by launching a pop-up on your website.
  • Purpose limitation: Focus on the data that you need, and refrain from asking for additional data elements. So, collect only the data that you need for efficient marketing and customer service.
  • Data quality: Consider centralizing the personal data collection into a customer relationship management system, and make sure your users can access their data to review its proposed usage and make any changes as necessary. Additionally, you could explore auditing your mailing list by removing anyone who has not provided opt-in consent.
  • Access: Ensure users have an overview of how their data is processed and what their rights are concerning privacy. Consider creating mechanisms that will let users easily access their data and withdraw consent for its use. 

Therefore, with reliance on data for efficient target marketing on one hand and compliance-related obligations on the other, marketers and organizations must tread this thin line between value creation through data and the privacy of the customers.

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