Privacy Concerns Could Hinder Personalization of Web Based Applications

Are Rising Privacy Concerns a Threat to the Future of Web Personalization?

May 3, 2018
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Consumers have been concerned about privacy since the early days of Internet. In 2006, Newsweek published the results of a poll that found that 53% of American adults felt that the National Security Administration (NSA) had gone too far with collecting phone data of US citizens. This was seven years before Edward Snowden revealed the extent of their data collecting activities.

Internet privacy concerns have become more elevated in recent years. In March, Pew Research Center conducted a poll that found 91% of people felt consumers had lost control their personal data. In 2017, a similar survey found that only 9% of people were confident that social media companies would protect their online privacy.

What does this mean for the future of personalization for web-based services? It will all boil down to a few things:

  • The sensitivity of the data customers need to get a personalized website experience.
  • Their confidence that the data will not be breached.
  • Their belief that data will be properly anonymized, so that it can’t be traced back to them in the event of a breach.

Most surveys have found that people are still supportive of website personalization, provided that it yields better user experience. However, it will be up to companies to influence the optics.

Here are some changes that organizations will need to make as they develop web personalization strategies around their customer concerns.

Find out what types of data customers are comfortable sharing

Some data may seem benign to most people. They may not mind that you use geographic personalization tokens to talk about opportunities and events in their area or other local content that may be of interest to them. They are also more willing to share data for help desk services. However, some customers may be a lot more concerned about you tracking their purchases. A lot of customers tend to feel that their purchases are more private and shouldn’t be tracked by the brands that they work with.

So, what types of data should you track and use for your personalization campaigns? Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer. All customers have their own standards of comfort. You will need to get their feedback. Don’t make any assumptions. I used to assume that my colleagues in the web profession would be more open to sharing relevant data, because they would understand how anonymization tokens worked. However, that is not always the case. Many of them seemed particularly cautious about sharing their data, because they worried more than the average person about how it could be used.

Giver customers control over personalization settings

It is a good idea to ask customers specifically what types of information they would like to have tracked and used for personalization. You should mention the following:

  • You can stop collecting this data at any time at their request.
  • The reasons that this type of data is helpful for web personalization.
  • That they can change their personalization settings at their leisure.

This doesn’t necessarily limit the type of data that hackers will have access to if your site is compromised. However, it does customers a greater sense of control over their data, which will help set their minds at ease. They will at least feel that they are the ones that decide how their data will be risked.

You should also make sure that your settings are compliant with the GDPR if you will have any customers from Europe.

Inform customers about the identification of certain types of data

There are a lot of different types of data. Some data is going to be a lot more personal than others. Other types of data won’t be attached to any individual.

You need to inform customers about the likelihood that a piece of data will be connected to them. Let them know what some types of data will based on cookies on their own machine, so it won’t be connected to them during a security breach. The only way that a hacker would know about it would be if their own machine was compromised.

However, some customers may not be as confident in these responses, because they don’t understand the technology behind it. You will need to do your best to assure them that most data won’t be personally connected to them.