Privacy is a consumer right – but let’s not oblige the tech giants to police it

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In a time of impending change for targeted marketing, all eyes are on the companies who, by virtue of their size, are becoming the de-facto privacy-enforcing rule-makers of the digital ecosystem.

We’re all aware of the substance of Google’s cookie less plans, which follow similar moves made by Mozilla and Apple’s Safari. And earlier this month, on another front, Apple’s App Store began rejecting apps that contain the widely-used Adjust third-party SDK on the basis that it collects user data without consent. This is against Apple’s privacy protections which require developers to ask permission for such tracking and to offer an opt-out.

Much has been said about the implications for the industry’s biggest players – and for Facebook in particular. We all enjoy the drama of a battle among Silicon Valley gods, but their lightning bolts also have real-world consequences for the mortals down here on the ground – the app developers, the marketers, the content makers. In this latest instance, the rejection of Adjust could affect as many as 50,000 apps, while brands and their ad-tech partners are already scrambling to future-proof their digital marketing in the light of the Google changes.

App-driven spying and over-intrusive, cookie-led targeting can’t go on any longer. Change is needed but is thwarted by a regulatory vacuum and a lack of industry consensus. Google and Apple find themselves occupying this void. And yet, offering up responsibility for cleaning up the business to just a few all-powerful companies doesn’t seem like quite the right solution for anyone.

People like to cast companies such as Apple and Google as voracious power-grabbers, but is the enforcement of customer privacy a responsibility they would ideally want? Will they be able to sustain it in the face of evolving practices and regulatory intervention over the longer-term? Could it, at some future point, turn public opinion, regulators, consumers, or the wider industry against them? 

For the many relative minnows who swim in the digital pond, too, the consolidation of power in Bay Area boardrooms is far from ideal. Numerous innovative companies are at acute risk of strategic capture if a handful of industry giants come to act as intermediate between them and their customers in so many, suffocating ways – ID, sign-in, payment, app stores, standards, audience data, privacy policies and more.

Likewise, it is hard to believe that regulators themselves want to see the giants get bigger and to wield even greater market influence. And then there’s the international perspective. Does a privacy solution that feels appropriate in California necessarily constitute an appropriate approach to privacy in all cultures, in all political systems, in all parts of the world?

Consumers need to be able to trust the companies they deal with online but consolidating the current approach to a handful of goliaths just concentrates the current problem. The industry needs a fundamental rethink. 

The use of data for reasonable marketing purposes isn’t the issue here. There are things an app would like to know about you that can benefit the developer and improve the user’s experience, and few of us mind that. People respond well to being provided with relevant content.

But this kind of information can be made available to developers, and can facilitate accurate targeting, without ever leaving the user’s device. It doesn’t need to be centralised, shared, sold on, scattered across the internet. The user doesn’t need to be identified at all.

And this isn’t just a hypothetical point. At Covatic, we are passionate believers that accurately targeted advertising does not require the industry to compromise on user privacy. That’s why we argue for a new, on-device approach to data privacy that puts the consumer first. And we haven’t just argued for this solution, we’ve built it and deployed it for our clients.

Our on-device technology is private by design: every piece of personal identifiable data is kept safe and secure and never needs to leave the user’s mobile device. Data is processed on the device too, sharing only anonymous media opportunities and statistics for broader audience insights. This is a future-proof solution in which advertisers and app developers only know what they genuinely, usefully need to know. 

By taking the mass of consumer data out of circulation, while still enabling it to be used in anonymised ways, it removes the need for large companies to police the space and begins the process of reclaiming consumer trust in the marketing delivered to them.

In the future, we will look back and shudder at the amounts of data – yours and mine -that was casually shared. But we will also wonder why it took us all so long to realise the obvious benefits of a genuinely private, consumer-focused, on-device solution.

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