If you collect user information for one-to-one web marketing use, online privacy is equally as important as the technology you implement and the marketing messages you create for your personalized web campaign.
My goal is to give you a lay of the land so you can make suitable decisions for yourself and your customers.
Do Online Users Really Want Privacy?
At the same time, 1998 online purchasing was up 300 percent over 1997. These conflicting data points can lead a web marketer to weep when it comes to figuring out the best tact for his or her online privacy policies.
- 48 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to provide personal information if there were a law preventing the site from using the information for any purpose other than processing their information request.
Then I read that over 1 million people signed up with Free-PC to receive one of the 10,000 free Compaq computers in exchange for their personal information. I guess everyone has a price! (My price: A Porsche Boxster, just in case anyone is wondering.) This event leads me to believe that the government may be a little heavy-handed with their privacy initiatives. I say to myself, “Why bother going to this effort to protect online user privacy, when users don’t care to protect their own privacy?” My opinion is that protecting privacy makes good business sense.
There is also a very practical reason for keeping yourself out of hot water with your customers or with the Federal Trade Commission. Last year, GeoCities got in trouble with the FTC (see FTC news release) because it was allegedly providing the personal information it was collecting from its members to third party marketers. According to the FTC allegations, the web registration form gave users the impression that the information was not going to be released to other companies without prior consent.
Privacy Practice Smorgasbord
Privacy policies are as variable as the variety of web sites on the Internet. The privacy practices of the five most popular online stores visited in December 1998 (according to Media Metrix) are:
- Bluemountainarts.com — The Blue Mountain Arts web site privacy statement is strict and straightforward. Names and email addresses collected are not compiled into a mailing list. They do not share names or email addresses with any other company.
- Amazon.com — Amazon.com’s privacy statement is in an easy-to-follow question and answer format. Amazon currently “does not sell, trade or rent personal information to others.” However, they say they may provide this information to third parties in the future. Amazon uses an opt-out policy where the customer must send an email to get off the list.
- eBay.com — eBay has an extensive privacy statement. They disclose user information to advertisers, but assure users’ identities are not disclosed. eBay doesn’t give users the ability to remove themselves from these marketing lists.
- Barnes & Noble — Currently, Barnes & Noble does not give information to third parties without users’ consent. They plan to adopt an opt-out privacy practice in the future. Although accessible from the home page, they do not have a web page dedicated solely to their privacy statement.
As you can see from the above examples, opt-out privacy policies seem to be popular among e-commerce web sites. “Opt-in” is where the default action requires the customer to actively choose to participate in the registration/data collection process. The web site does not collect any information without the customer saying so first. “Opt-out” is where the default action already enrolls the customer in the registration/data collection process. Customers must actively take themselves out of the process.
Protect Thy Customer, Protect Thyself
Don’t put yourself in the same spot as GeoCities did with the government. Clear, understandable privacy policies can keep you out of trouble. When you write your policy, test it with customers and others outside the process to ensure that your policies are easy to understand.
Next Week: More on one-to-one web marketing.