The Evolution of Consumer Privacy

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*This content has been adapted from our full-length Movers and Shakers video podcast, The Impact of Apple Privacy Changes on Digital Marketing.

Luci: Can you talk a bit about how we got here?

We know that GDPR started in Europe. They started all of these really, I’d say, public and conversational concerns. Then the CCPA fall in California. I was at Comcast at the time when this was really sprung on us, and we had a short amount of time to prepare for this privacy act. Then, when I went on to PODS it was time to implement it.

Companies have spent a tremendous amount of resources preparing for these things across the world. There is an investment for companies to protect their consumers that should be made and now larger entities are really forcing them, or in some cases entities like Apple are making the decision for them.

Tell us about how we got here and where you see this going.

Todd: You’re right. It did start in Europe. Europe was more pronounced about these data collection practices. Historically, for other reasons, I think we can all think back and realize that the European Union in those countries collecting data and databases, unbeknownst to people, can have bad consequences, right? If you’ve been here in the United States for a while, you know that we’ve always been able to kind of not feel that in a real personal way.

So when GDPR came out, a common reaction a lot of brands had was, “Oh, well, we’re U.S. based, so it doesn’t apply to me.” And then very quickly came the CCPA with very similar concepts.

Safari and Firefox had already started blocking cross-site, which effectively makes cookies unable to track the users. They didn’t quite get as much press, but I know as a company that supplies descriptive data to enable programmatic, we did see a decline in revenue simply because we couldn’t attach those rich descriptive elements that brands want to qualify their impressions to people using those browsers.

So, it went from, “Well, that only affects European companies, brands and advertisers” to a very real headwind in the short term for months.

With Google, I really think they want to make the same changes because they see the same consumer trends. All these browsers from an economy of scale, there they’re global products, right?

And, so just as we think of preemption here of the CCPA, and it would be a lot easier for us to deal with if we had one single federal regulation that preempted everything, those tech companies look at GDPR on the same scale. It’s much easier for me to manage a browser for one product across the globe, right? So, they sort of need to adopt the most conservative view of privacy from a global perspective. That’s why the GDPR kind of led the way. I think Google’s looking at the business impact and they realize that fingerprinting is far worse for consumer privacy than cookies.

If you look at the way browsers work today, a lot of detailed information about the specific configuration of your browser is passed to the website so the website knows how to render itself. So, is this a small screen? Is this a big screen? How many colors does it have, etc? So, it really makes that experience pleasant for you.

But, when you throw in things like IP address on top of all those other options, it becomes almost a 1-to-1 configuration.

So, marketing companies or ad tech companies are storing that in the background as ways to say, “Oh, I’ve seen this browser before,” because of the cookie.

But with the CCPA, there’s no one describing that fingerprinting techniques are being used every time you open a browser. I think Google has really focused on that being the practice that needs to be eliminated. Otherwise, turning off cross-site might make things worse. And then the other thing, and I do think they’re genuine in this is Google, as a company, is a search engine, right? That’s where the vast majority of their profits come from. Almost everything else compared to Search is closer to breakeven.

What really enables that is a healthy web ecosystem where people are seeking out content. They feel safe, and they’re actively using it multiple times a day. They are concerned that if they move too fast they could collapse the ecosystem too quickly. That’s not good for their business, and frankly, it’s not good for consumers either.

Luci, I’d love your opinion. Do you think 2023 will be the real date, or do you think it will move again?

Luci: They’ve been kicking the can down the road, right? 

 I think it’s a big executive decision on their part. Do we keep kicking the can down the road or do we pull up our big boy pants and make it happen, bite the bullet, take the hit, and then know where we’re starting from and move forward.

As a big search and SEO provider, I think somebody over there has run the numbers about what could happen and so that’s we’re seeing them kicking the can down the road. I think my prediction is ultimately they have to do something and my guess is they’re still figuring that out.

I think they’re trying to figure out how do they either do a slow roll out or how do they keep kicking the can down the road? Can they just wait on it until they come up with new technology? I don’t I don’t know. It’s hard to say.

Todd: Right. I’m with you on it. You can always count on Google to come up with a new technology, right?

I know they did file an interesting patent-which is a whole different topic-but it was around this very thing of fingerprinting. It was about API calls from the browser to the website asking for specific information rather than caching it in the user agent fields and the like would be with IP address. So, it effectively is a way for the browser to work without IP address and a lot of the elements that we typically associate with fingerprinting.

So. I do think that they see a way forward. In 2023, I think even if it’s an intermediate step, there’ll be a closer step towards cookies. That’s my opinion. We’ll have to see what, what happens.

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