Real Life Examples
Personal privacy and the Internet has become a hot topic around the office lately. Our Creative Director, Natalie Schlocker, found out that a company is using her personal information to try and make a profit. They are doing this by displaying her personal information on their website, with a link that is trying to sell a background check on her for a nominal fee. Her information, which is contained on this website includes name, DOB, known addresses and more, all available for anyone to see! She tried calling the company to take her information off the site, but they said they would not take it down because it was public information. There are a number of websites that use your personal information in this manner, as they try to sell visitors some type of product or service.
We had another one of these incidents this week when someone called our office saying that someone in our office was surfing their website, and wanted to know if we were interested in their products or services. Even though none of us could remember going to the site, someone in our office must have gone there at one point. The site owner then took our static IP address (computer network address), tracked us down and called us directly. This is not difficult to do, but we were shocked that someone would actually do this, and it raised the privacy issue once again.
Both of the above examples reflect why we believe personal information should never be misused. The problem is that websites and the online industry in general is self-regulated for the most part, with the exception of a few laws such as the Can Spam Act of 2003, which provides guidelines that must be followed for spamming legally. Besides the can-spam law, it is still pretty much the wild wild west when it comes to Internet Marketing and what you can do with people’s personal information.
Google’s Privacy Issues
Google was in the news again over privacy issues because people have concerns about how they will be using the data they collect from their Google Books platform.
“They know which books you search for,” says Cindy Cohn, Legal Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is a group pushing for Google Books to offer greater privacy guarantees. “They know which books you browse through; they know how long you spend on each page.”*
The above data in itself is not bad to collect, but Google has the power to pinpoint this information back to an exact individual, and then sell, market to or otherwise compromise this personal information. To rely on Google to protect our privacy is not the answer either, as Google now owns one of the largest, most invasive and heavily criticized ad serving companies in the world, DoubleClick.
Where We Stand on Privacy Issues
As a marketing firm we do collect data and email addresses, but we never misuse this information. We have websites that have newsletters where you can sign up with your email address to receive the newsletter, but we would never sell your email address or send unsolicited emails. When we collect email addresses we are doing so as a service to our website visitors, as well as a service for our clients and their website visitors. If someone is interested in our company, clients or services then they should sign up for our newsletter so they can get important updates and information, and the same is true of all of our clients that also have newsletters. Newsletters are a great way to get interesting information in a timely and cost effective (free) way. This is why it is a shame that other companies violate the trust of their newsletter members by selling and spamming their email addresses.
The other way we collect data is through the use of tracking software that Google provides, called Google Analytics. This software is the industry norm when it comes to online tracking, and Google has done very well with providing marketers like ourselves with in-depth, accurate, tracking data, without compromising personal information in any way. When someone visits our website, or one of our clients’ websites, the tracking software will be able to tell us where that visitor came from. This is one of the most important things for us to track because we need to know if our campaigns for our clients’ luxury brands, and our marketing campaigns for our own website are working and worth the time, energy and money.
Through the use of Google Analytics we are also able to collect important information about what visitors are doing on our site: what pages they visit, how long they stay, whether or not they submitted a contact form or used any of the website’s tools, etc. This information is also very valuable for online marketers and does not violate personal privacy. All of the statistics we collect are just numbers on a page, and through the use of this software we cannot track anything back to an individual, physical address or IP address.
This data is very important for our business because we provide the utmost value for our clients who engage in online marketing campaigns. Part of providing this value invloves tracking, and being able to tell the client exactly what happens with their website: i.e. that hundreds of visitors were on a luxury interior design blog where they were reading an article based on a press release we sent to the blog’s editor, when they clicked on the link to the client’s website where 15 people filled out a contact form. Another instance of where tracking is extremely valuable can be seen when we are doing Search Engine Optimization for a client for a keyword like “steam shower.” With effective tracking and reporting we are able to see that the result of our optimization efforts has increased the search engine position and resulted in 50 more completed goals for the client. These are examples of what makes this data so powerful and valuable, but it must be used in the right manner and by people who have ethical standards so that private information is not abused.
*Source: NPR News