Why We Must Provoke Opt-Outs

New kinds of data collection and analysis about consumers’ online activities will dramatically increase the productivity of the Web and social media as brand communication channels. But marketers need an open attitude toward privacy plus widely available and easy-to-use mechanisms for opting out.

Ownership of your online behavior is a fundamental human right. So is the option not to be tracked and not to play with brands. The only debate about the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not track” policy should be about the terms and conditions for implementation.

The marketing reality is that effective opt-out tools, full disclosure and avenues to avoid tracking, yield better, more responsive databases filled with consumers who are open and interested in messages from brands. That’s why marketers must support neutral third party solutions like the Open Data Partnership or concepts offered by the IAB or the DMA.

We must set forward industry standards and best practices for protecting individual rights and privacy. And we better move quickly before the administrators at the FTC lay down arbitrary regulations or before a gaggle of ham-fisted showboating politicians impose a set of draconian rules that kill the Golden Goose.

The ability to create highly targeted anonymous target lists is growing exponentially. The ability to zero in on individuals with both an expressed interest in a product or category and a high propensity to respond or buy is within our grasp. Traditional data aggregators and processors are being joined by online tracking firms with the ability to build rich, detailed psycho-demographic and behavioral profiles that will give marketers a whole new magnitude of targeting precision. Media efficiencies and ROI beyond anything we’ve seen before are on the horizon.

These new capabilities will scare the beJesus out of many people. But frankly the more opt-outs we provoke, the cleaner and more productive these lists will be. So our near-term mission needs to be to create easy, well-marked ways out, develop visual cues that alert consumers about tracking and scrupulously respect the stated preferences of our customers and prospects.

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