Building Trust, Transparency and Perceived Value a Must for Ending the Online Privacy Debate - eMarketer
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Building Trust, Transparency and Perceived Value a Must for Ending the Online Privacy Debate

December 30, 2011



Jeff Jarvis
Associate Professor and Director
Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism

Like most journalists, Jeff Jarvis is ever conscious of the concept of privacy. Also an author, blogger and associate professor and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, Jarvis spends much time educating the public on issues surrounding online privacy. He spoke with eMarketer’s Lauren Fisher about online privacy and why he thinks the debate around it should focus on transparency and building consumer trust.

eMarketer: What do you see as the biggest challenge advertisers and other industry players face right now in the way of online privacy?

Jeff Jarvis: Advertisers, media and ad agencies have all done a terrible job of informing the public on what they do, why they do it and how it benefits the public.

In many ways, those of us in media have ourselves to blame for the demonization of tracking and cookies. There’s nothing wrong with a cookie. In fact, there’s less personally identifiable information in a cookie than in many direct marketing databases. Still, the consumer perception right now is that we’re the bad guys, and we need to dig our way out of that.

eMarketer: How should the industry go about addressing this problem?

Jarvis: Radical transparency. We need to be as open as possible about what we do. We do things that have consumer value, so we need to make it clear what that value is.

“It’s not about privacy at all. That’s the problem... [I]t is really about a lack of trust, a lack of transparency and a lack of perceived value.”

It’s not about doing new privacy policies or putting privacy buttons on things. It’s not about privacy at all. That’s the problem. Privacy is what’s coming out from the end of it, but it is really about a lack of trust, a lack of transparency and a lack of perceived value.

Many industry players and organizations are trying to do something to take the heat off of the online ad industry from regulators. But what they really need to do is change the entire conversation, refocusing it on the consumer and not their own needs.

It’s about giving consumers power to see everything we do and to change anything about it. For example, if you bought a piano lesson book for a friend on Amazon, and the site continues to recommend other lesson books to you, you should be able to tell it to stop recommending these books. Radical transparency comes down to giving complete control to the user, so they can better tell the advertiser what is valuable to them.

Will this fix the problem? I don’t know. We may be too late, both on the consumer end and the political and regulatory end, so we’ve got to do this fast.

eMarketer: What is the worst-case scenario for advertisers in how the online privacy debate might play out?

Jarvis: The worst outcome is that the Do Not Track proposal gets passed and becomes widely, widely accepted. This will lead to terrible user experiences, like those ads with the dancing monkeys. More worrisome is the number of ad-supported content sites that will likely put their web content behind gardened walls, making for less content and a less democratic internet.

eMarketer: What do you think consumers are most concerned with when it comes to their online privacy?

Jarvis: What they are worried about is often nonspecific and emotional. I don’t mean to diminish their concerns at all—most people have vague worries, usually under the horrible word “creepy.”

“We need to teach consumers why they shouldn’t be scared, and we need to take care of those industry players who aren’t looking out for the best interest of the consumer.”

That’s why we have to show the benefits of what we do and we have to show the limits. We need to teach consumers why they shouldn’t be scared, and we need to take care of those industry players who aren’t looking out for the best interest of the consumer.

We have to be out there very, very openly. We have to tell them, “We give you free content. Here’s how we do it and here’s the benefit you’re going to get.”

A longer version of this interview is available to eMarketer Total Access clients only. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a Total Access client, click here.

Check out today’s other article, “Integrating Social Media into Business Process a Challenge.”

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