Respecting Anonymity

A recent Wall Street Journal article about the sophisticated algorithms on the cutting edge of online advertising has some consumers quite concerned. The article raises obvious issues related to online privacy, and should serve as a reminder to companies about setting boundaries when utilizing these technologies. There are potential legal problems involved with misusing the data obtained in order to passively discriminate against certain demographic groups, so it’s important to make sure that your business is using this valuable resource properly.

It can be difficult to figure out what crosses the blurry line between acceptable targeting and unlawful behavior, which is why we decided to clear the air a little bit. We are not legal professionals; hence our explanations are not an adequate substitute for a bona fide consultation with an attorney. That said, there are a few guidelines companies should follow if they decide to employ said services. First off, targeting should not be invasive. In other words, don’t try to gather unnecessary data about your customers. Sure, it’s nice to know their age group or gender, but stop short of mining for intimate details. There’s no real need to pinpoint someone’s exact geographic location when getting a general idea as to where he or she lives will suffice.

Secondly, don’t let one-dimensional data determine your marketing strategy towards all individuals that fall within certain categories. As the article explains, this is where most advertisers get into trouble. While it may be tempting to market particular products towards low income people, for example, it is illegal to do so in a way that severely limits the consumer’s options. This can be tricky because you want to sell the right products to the appropriate consumers, and you certainly may. You just have to give everyone equal access to your products and not market items to a select group exclusively.

Disclosure in advertising can be a real life saver in this instance. By disclosure, we mean letting your customers know that you have tools at your disposal that will assist you in tailoring your ads to their preferences. Allowing customers the choice to participate in customized campaigns or stick to the old fashioned way is an excellent way to avoid liability. Be sure to let them change their mind, too, and make the process as easy as possible. On the whole, consumers like transparency and feeling as though their rights are being respected. This strategy also opens up a meaningful dialogue to illustrate your company’s level of commitment to customer satisfaction. It’s an excellent way to build your credibility and brand loyalty.

If you have further questions about any of these subjects, it’s probably a good idea to contact a legal professional and read the applicable laws on your own. We suggest that you read the laws before talking to an attorney, that way you will be able to pinpoint anything that seems vague or incomprehensible for further explanation.

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