Customer Expectations of Privacy

Here’s a small test for you.

Who loves the concept of permission marketing better: online marketers or online customers?

The truth is, marketers love it to bits. Because getting permission enables us to be the good guys. We can sell our stuff with heads held high because we have permission.

But how excited by “permission” are the tens of millions of regular folks out there in cyberland?

How many people really recognize a permission-based marketing campaign for what it is and how it protects them?

I started giving this some thought when I looked at CyberAtlas’s Top 50 Sites for August 2000.

Count the number of games and sweepstakes sites listed:,,,,,, and

That’s a lot. And you won’t find that permission marketing is a real core value within these sites.

Coincidentally, I got a call by a fellow from idealab! the other day. He is an in-house executive recruiter looking to recruit someone for its hottest, fastest-growing property

He told me that is looking for a senior database marketing person. Some of the job duties involve some serious data mining to figure out how best to make money from the huge gobs of information it collects about its players.

And it does collect a lot of information. reached its “one million user” mark within 78 days of launch.

Why the huge success? Because people want to win stuff.

Did these million online folks fret about the finer points of permission marketing? I doubt it. Should they have? Probably.

There’s no “Privacy” link from the home page. First, you have to find the help page. There you’ll find the User Agreement.

Pretty long read, 418 lines, to be exact, or 3,340 words.

But not as long as the Sweepstakes Rules, which weigh in at 730 lines, or 4,296 words.

And then there’s the Privacy Statement.

This Privacy Statement is only a merciful 58 lines in length, or 797 words. But it does contain some notable gems, like the following:

    “ may release personally identifying information in order to comply with applicable laws or protect the rights or property of Otherwise, will not give away any personally identifiable information if you request us not to disclose it.”

How about that final sentence? Pretty smooth to slip that in behind the “applicable laws” bit. Scary, too. Now I have to opt out of having my personal information sold and bartered?

Read through the User Agreement, Sweepstakes Rules, and the Privacy Statement, and you’ll get a good case of the shudders. As permission-friendly marketers, we hate this stuff. But do our customers? Not right now, apparently. But I think the time will come when they will.

I’d draw three conclusions from this.

  1. People don’t read long privacy statements and don’t appear to dig too deep if they can get their hands on something they really want like prizes.

  2. As marketers, we should recognize that our customers are less fixated on the finer points of permission marketing than we are.
  3. If online businesses ride roughshod over reasonable consumer expectations of privacy (whether they read your Privacy Agreement or not), government intervention on consumer privacy will hurt us all, sooner rather than later.

In closing, two last sets of figures.

  1. The combined length of the User Agreement, Sweepstakes Rules, and Privacy Statement is 8,433 words approximately 12 times the length of the article you’re reading now.

  2. According to the “Prizes and Odds” section of the Sweepstakes Rules, the chances of winning $25 are 1:5,184,000. Loss of privacy seems to come pretty cheap. For now.

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