Many of the problems we face for digital privacy come from the fact that businesses want to understand their customers. The better you know your customer, the better you can sell to them. If your primary goal is making money, then it’s easy to see how an organization can stumble into gathering as much information on their users as possible. Couple that with the fact that other companies in your industry are also doing that and now you have to collect data in order to remain competitive. This is the world we live in today where, for the most part, to not use privacy invasive tracking in some form is to be at a disadvantage, and that’s why so few forego the practice.
Congratulations! You have been named VP of Marketing at Big Company, Inc. You want to see your business succeed but at the same time you are a privacy advocate who doesn’t want to contribute to surveillance capitalism. What principles would you outline for yourself that balance what you think is reasonable for marketing while also respecting the privacy of your customers or prospective customers? I know the question isn’t the most clear, but I’m interested in seeing the different takes you might have if put in this position.
First thing, I’m renaming from Big Company, Inc. to Bob’s Discount Furniture.
The second step would be to make sure that we collect a minimum amount of data on our customers and don’t retain it for longer than it is necessary. We could also brand our company as more privacy conscious, framing it a competitor to Big Tech like Google and Meta. Then, I would make our focus on great customer experience and privacy + security a top priority. I would try to make our product stand out or have some sort of feature that sets it apart from our competitors. Then I would set ourselves up with a website that really embraces the idea that we’re a more privacy focused version of our competitors. In order to please the stock holders, I have to mention AI or some other hype word on the homepage of the website a least twice. It might be hard to compete with bigger companies, especially ones who can make money by selling your data. However, I believe that people are willing to pay a small premium if they know the service is more private and secure.
I think if a company provides a quality service or product, surveillance capitalistic tactics become redundant; anyone who has my business has free advertising.
Imagine being so good at what you do, your only marketing comes from word of mouth…
This is a question I’ve also considered. There is a harsh reality in a situation like this where social media advertising is highly effective these days, meaning you may have to rely on other companies collecting and using personal data, sometimes illegally, to recommend your product. I think nearly every social media company has this issue so I don’t see how you can easily avoid it without losing a very prominent marketing channel. I think there are things that could be done to reduce dependence on social media marketing though, such as getting attention from media outlets, sponsoring individual creators, and being a vendor at events that are relevant to your audience. You can also use in house or open source solutions to do marketing strategies on your business’s landing page, like A/B testing.
I don’t see anything wrong with aggregate data as long as it isn’t stored together. If product x is more popular than product y in a specific region, that isn’t exactly privacy invasive. Neither is calculating the number of clicks on a link (not visitor info).
In other words, if the data collected makes it such that it is difficult to deanonymize, I don’t see an issue with it.