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Permission vs. Privacy: What Your Subscribers Really Expect

  |  February 2, 2011   |  Comments

Respecting privacy means respecting your customer, and getting their permission is an essential step towards showing them that respect.

So you purchase an airline ticket to visit your folks in Florida to get out of the cold. An implicit condition of getting on that plane is that you have to go through a security check. However, when you get to security they want to pat you down rather than walk you through the scanner. Then they open your suitcase and go through your belongings in front of all the other passengers in the security line. Your expectation of the security steps necessary in order to fly to your destination was incorrect. Had you known what actually was going to occur, you might have packed differently, or worn a different outfit. Or then again, perhaps it wouldn't have mattered to you.

Regardless of your feelings, the question remains: Did airline security breach your privacy, or did it just not meet your expectations?

As a marketer, this may sound very familiar, as it relates to your e-mail program. You may have the customer's "permission," but are you respecting her privacy? Sometimes marketers make that line unnecessarily blurry.

The difference between permission and privacy may seem obvious based on dictionary definitions (Random House's Dictionary.com):

  • Permission: Authorization granted to do something; formal consent
  • Privacy: The state of being free from intrusion or disturbance in one's private life or affairs

In reality, it's a bit more complicated. While preparing to write this column, I asked a few people for their thoughts on this subject. I spoke to six industry experts and got completely different opinions from all of them. However, there were some common threads that I think we would all agree on.

Getting permission from your customers means more than getting an opt-in to receive your e-mail and texts. Conditionally, it is about presenting them with a value proposition that instills confidence that you will respect and protect the data they choose to provide in return for the information they will receive. What will you use their data for, and how will you protect it? Respecting your customers' privacy deals with how you interact with the individual person or their computer. How did you get their information? Who will you share it with? Who has access to it, and are you doing what you told me you would with it?

The blurry details emerge when either of these sets of expectations is not met:

You respect my permission by sending me only the messages I have agreed to, but violate my privacy by not adhering to reasonable data protection standards. For example, you accidentally or intentionally expose my data to others. Think recent Facebook slip-ups, disreputable list compilers, or ad networks.

Your privacy policies and data protection practices are outstanding yet continually send me messages that fall outside the scope of my consent. For example, you send marketing messages to people who received a forward-to-a-friend message but didn't consent to receiving marketing messages.

Respecting privacy means respecting your customer, and getting their permission is an essential step towards showing them that respect. If your customer doesn't understand your terms and conditions, the permission they gave you may not be meaningful. Which also means it is possible that the permission you secure is not informed, and thus not consent. Our industry seems to be coming to terms with this, and is moving closer to a position based on this philosophy rather than one based on simple opt-in. This may be driven in part by recent comments from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Commerce (DOC) calling for greater transparency to the consumer about what is being asked of them and what they will get and give up in return.

Ultimately, your customer is in control of the relationship. When presented with the right information and a beneficial value proposition, they will be more satisfied. That satisfaction will also have a positive impact on your IP reputation and ultimately, delivery to an inbox.


Rick Buck

Rick Buck is vice president of privacy and ISP relations, CIPP at e-Dialog, a provider of advanced e-mail and multichannel marketing solutions. Rick works with clients, ISPs, and privacy organizations to promote best practices around responsible marketing. He is an active member of the Direct Marketing Association where he sits on the Ethics Operating committee and previously served as the Ethics Policy committee chair. Rick is also a board member of the E-mail Sender and Provider Coalition (ESPC). Prior to his current role Rick served as vice president, business lists and data for Harte Hanks.

Rick is an accomplished speaker and author on such topics as e-mail deliverability, privacy, and CAN-SPAM compliance. Rick has over 20 years of experience in privacy, acquisition strategy, database management, and Internet marketing. He joined e-Dialog in 2000.

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