Privacy Under Scrutiny
What Direct Marketers Need to Know About the Burgeoning Issues of Customer Privacy and Data Security
By Donna Loyle
We're in the midst of a new cultural revolution. According to one observer, privacy will be to this generation what the civil rights and women's liberation movements were to previous generations.
While that may be somewhat of an overstatement, the message is still clear: Consumers may be growing tired of the advertising and media barrage, and are now saying: "Leave me alone!"
Compounding the matter are the rising numbers of truly horrendous tales of identify theft, cyber-stalking and other criminal activities—acts that have been sparked, in part, by the ease with which information is now disseminated. The result has been, in recent years, an increasing number of privacy-related regulations.
That said, every marketer should be aware of the causes and effects of the shift in consumers' attitudes. Even Sept. 11 and its aftermath haven't thoroughly quelled Americans' increasingly vocalized desire to have their privacy rights protected.
"There is no sign that privacy issues are abating any time soon," says Pat Faley, vice president of ethics and consumer affairs at The Direct Marketing Association and a recognized leader in the field of privacy and marketing. "In fact, they are only increasing."
Michael Erbschloe and John Vacca, authors of "Net Privacy: A Guide to Developing and Implementing an Ironclad Business Privacy Plan," say consumers' awareness of privacy issues has increased sharply as a result of the rise of the Internet.
Why? First, the Internet has prompted a huge increase in the number of people using computers. Second, several privacy-related incidents have resulted in considerable negative press coverage for companies that improperly invaded people's privacy. Third, many organizations have begun using the Internet for marketing, sales or information dissemination. Finally, the Internet's international nature presents new challenges to governments, technology developers and providers, enterprises, and consumers.
The Problem of Defining Privacy
When polled, many Americans think their right to privacy is somehow a Constitutional right. But the concept of privacy as a legal right in the United States was first put forward in 1890 by Boston attorney Samuel Warren and future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Their now famous and frequently cited article "The Right to Privacy," published in the Harvard Law Review, introduced the concepts of a "right to be left alone" and that an individual should be allowed to maintain his or her own comfortable distance from society.
During the years, privacy has taken on different connotations and even definitions depending on what's happening in American society and culture. For example, during World War II, Americans were more willing to give up some rights to their privacy in order to gain greater security. But in the 1970s, when Americans were rebelling against established norms, privacy protection and consumer rights became paramount. The rapid rise of the Internet has only increased consumers' interest in privacy.
Today's experts and scholars define privacy in myriad ways. Curtis Frye, author of the book "Privacy-Enhanced Business: Adapting to the Online Environment," describes the difficulty in defining privacy. "The social distance citizens keep from strangers, acquaintances, friends, business associates, companies and the government all depend on the context of the interaction, the familiarity with the individual or organization in question, and the value a person places on privacy in each of those situations," he writes.
Thus, Frye argues, the problem with defining privacy is that the concept means different things to different people at different times.
To make matters more problematic, other experts separate privacy issues, noting that identity theft and credit card fraud actually are crime problems unrelated to legitimate uses of information, while telemarketing and unsolicited e-mail marketing (spam) are better characterized as annoyances and inconveniences. To be sure, the issues are complex and relative.
So what can direct marketers do to protect their customers' valued privacy, while still effectively touting products and services? Is it a good idea to use your carefully crafted privacy policies in your marketing campaigns? What's the current thinking on data sharing? Where can marketers go for more information on this timely topic?
This edition of Target Marketing magazine has tried to answer some of these questions for you.