When Privacy and Business Collide


Last May, I suggested that if only marketers would embrace “incremental opt-in,” it would usher in the end of the privacy problem.

Conceptually, this was a good idea. But the world keeps turning and things continue to get more complicated. The issues are more interconnected in global reach and broader in philosophic morality.

If you’re selling internationally, you must be aware that the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Article 8 clearly states the data privacy rights of the individual.

The EU Special Interest Group of the Digital Analytics Association has published the “SIGEU Whitepaper on Privacy Compliance.” It spells out how the 2009 and 2012 “Cookie Laws” have made a shamble of European Union (EU) analytics data management.

The rules and regulations evolving around this issue in EU countries have become so disjointed and inconsistent, the European Commission is proposing a regulation that will be law in all 27 EU countries in 2014. Its goal is to provide effective protection of the fundamental rights of individuals to protect their data and regulatory consistency across the region.

When Regulations and Business Collide

The above regulation contains some truly interesting premises:

  1. Right to be forgotten
  2. Easy access to one’s own data
  3. Right to edit one’s own data
  4. Right to data portability

Before we get to the principles of the above, let’s talk technical and business complexities.

  1. If I asked you to delete me from all of your databases, all of your data warehouses, all of your datamarts, and whatever might be on laptops, phones, flash drives, or in the cloud…could you?
  2. Could you possibly show me all of the data you have about me so I can audit the veracity of each bit?
  3. Can you create a system that is robust enough to allow public access to your most crucial asset (customer data) so the great, unwashed masses can update it themselves?
  4. Can you imagine a universe wherein your customers could easily take all of the data you have painstakingly collected about them and hand it to your competitors?

If only our concerns around data protection and privacy were just that simple.

A Philosophy Challenge

Last year, the World Economic Forum published the 40-page “Personal Data: The Emergence of a New Asset Class.” It took a deep look at the business, health, and political value of data and raised some very vexing issues.

When the Forum maps out the variety of ways data can be captured (volunteered, observed, inferred) in the following graph, you realize that “ownership” is a far more complex matter than we’ve dealt with in the past.


Is my age merely an attribute about me, open for public consumption, or is it personally identifiable information to which you have no right?

If I click on three links on your website, is that your user experience data or is it personal behavior that I can demand you delete?

And what about my credit score? The location data in my phone? My medical records?

It seems marketing is running face first into a legal conversation the likes of which we haven’t seen since private property was first defined. Now, we have to define intellectual private property.

This is the beginning of a very fascinating conversation. Make sure you bring your data scientists, brand managers, and philosophers to the table. And in the meantime, stick with an all opt-in approach.

Data Privacy image via Shutterstock.

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