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The myths of data privacy

Opinion

The myths of data privacy

 

Internet users all over the world are concerned about how organizations are using their personal data.  In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a news story about how personal data is being used against rather than for consumers. While Internet users in the MENA region are much more likely to agree with the statement “the Internet is making things better for people like me” than Internet users globally, according to a 2014 report by Qatar Ministry of Information & Communications Technology, they still have some concerns about data privacy.

Globally, 29 percent of users have concerns around their online communications being monitored. The numbers in the MENA region are much similar with 28 percent reporting the same concerns.  However, Internet users in North Africa are much more inclined to believe that their personal data is safe online when compared to users in the GCC and globally.

Whilst data privacy is of utmost importance, it’s worth reminding ourselves that there’s another side to this for consumers.  How is personal data being used to make life easier, better and more interesting for all of us?  There are many misconceptions about data so it’s time to correct some of these myths.

Myth #1: All online tracking is intrinsically bad for consumers

Reality:  Cookies serve many useful purposes so long as it is clear to the user what they’re being used for and that the users agree to those uses.

Identity confirmation plays a big role in great user experiences.  For example, it can be useful to come back to a site at a later date and have a recently browsed listing alleviating the need to reconstruct your previous search process to find exactly that pair of shoes you liked, or even pre populating some basic data (such as trip dates or number of seats) to minimise re keying.

Myth #2: It’s best to provide as little data as possible when making purchases online.

Reality: Some insight into our preferences can stop irrelevant offers and generate ones we’re more likely to be interested in looking at.

Some reports would have us all believe that brands are looking at each and every single crumb of data dropped by website visitors.  The reality is that many marketers are overwhelmed with vast repositories of untapped data, which is growing by the day.  By providing preferences and interests as part of the buying process, subsequent offers from brands are more likely to be relevant and therefore, interesting.

Myth # 3: Keep your location hidden at all times – leave your phone at home.

Reality: Location information – when used correctly – can provide additional utility to the consumer.

Many consumers are happy to accept location based advertising if it was more relevant and useful.  Social media has particularly helped highlight the benefit of using location data, e.g. to find nearby restaurants or hail a taxi.  The iBeacon era will undoubtedly usher in additional functionality.

Myth #4: Social media companies threaten your privacy.

Reality: Privacy risks are in the hands of users.

Social media companies have had to settle high profile privacy related cases in the courts across a number of jurisdictions in recent years – for data security related weaknesses and failures to provide sufficient clarity around permissions.  Therefore, they now have even more reason to avoid harming users as legal actions can damage profitability as well as reputation.  The biggest risk now is based on what the users themselves do with their data.

Myth #5: Advertisers threaten your privacy.

Reality: It’s a value exchange; give up a little privacy and get useful services in return.

Whilst we would all rather see no adverts, the commercial model of many free web services is based on advertising.  Without this income, rich content cannot be created.  It’s an exchange of value: consumer data/tracking for free services.

Myth #6: Consumers are getting bombarded with more and more emails
Reality: Consumers are becoming more discerning, only interacting with relevant communications and removing the rest

Research confirms that 60 percent of consumers are happy for companies to use their data collected to show relevant offers, discounts, loyalty bonuses where they feel they have control over their data.  Consumers are being more selective about which email programmes they subscribe to.  The top motivation for signing up in the first place is money saving.

So the reality is that sharing personal data isn’t all bad. If brands want to make the most out of the data consumers choose to share, they need to ensure they are open and honest with their data otherwise the myths surrounding data usage will never be demystified.

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