At the heart of the debate about data and privacy today, there lies a false premise. An assumption that there are sides to be taken and battle lines to be drawn. 

This perceived division largely pits the individual against the interests of businesses. 

The default position in the media around this debate is too often driven by a lack of technological understanding, an issue amplified in politics where the debate tends to draw a strong line between the public sector (good), and private enterprise (bad).

Consider Europe’s much derided, misunderstood and miss-implemented cookie law

At its heart lies good intentions, the aim is to strike a new bargain between consumers and businesses, allowing transparency and the provision of an opt-out for tracking. 

However by focusing purely on cookies, most often employed outside of tracking as a basic session handler, the law forced an implementation that led to ubiquitous cookie notifications which hold next to no relevance at all. 

As a result, users now click them away, much the same way that we are prone to swipe through terms & conditions screens without so much as a second thought. And those interested in user tracking continue to do so in the dark, without the use of cookies at all.

Nonetheless, individuals take a much more nuanced view than most would believe. 

Personalised data

The majority of people are open to the concept of personalised content, 78% according to polling by Ipsos MediaCT, including advertising. 

They understand that for this to happen, data will be collected and used. There is an implicit exchange that takes place. In short our data, and often our exposure to advertising, in return for ‘free’ access to content. 

The flip side of this is that 65% of people want the option for privacy controls, with similar numbers wanting personalised content to be based on information that they explicitly provide.

Trust

What needs to be understood is that first and foremost the issue of data use and privacy online is really an issue of trust. 

There is really no alternative to embracing digital. it is necessary to engage in society in any meaningful way. from banking and paying tax to using a telephone or making a purchase. There is little choice but to place trust in the growing number of organisations who collect, process and share personal data. 

We believe that trust can only flourish and be maintained when both transparency and honesty are employed. Secrecy, especially the holding back of negative news which often happens when a data breach occurs, undermines the trust that is central to the flourishing of the digital economy.

This is not a question of public vs. private. There are plenty of examples of poor data custody in the public sector. It is fair to say that there has been a failure in approach across the board. 

The majority of organisations and public bodies fail to provide adequate privacy controls, and virtually none take the step of explaining what information is being used and why. And where they do, there is no consistency in application.

This results in much of the internet being left in shades of grey, significantly undermining trust, distorting the conversation, and ultimately acting to reduce the quality of the data itself.

There is a need not only for adequate controls, but also for an open and honest conversation about data use. This is not an issue to shy away from, but one to embrace in order to take the necessary steps to forge and maintain trust. 

For more insight on first-party data, our brand new report The Promise of First-Party Data examines the opportunities in the proprietary data that marketers already have (or should have).