The Internet Privacy Landscape is Shifting

The State of Internet Privacy

Something interesting is happening: while consumers will likely continue to click “I agree,” to various privacy agreements, they are becoming increasingly aware of their data usage and concerned with their privacy.

For years, tech companies have claimed that consumers do not care much about privacy and are willing participants in sharing their data. In hindsight, it looks more and more that consumers were only agreeing to this arrangement because the extent of the data collection and sharing being undertaken was and is out of sight to them. As these practices are coming to light, we are seeing a clear shift in attitude.

According to a recent study, more Americans are worried about their data privacy than they are about losing their main source of income.1 In a PEW Research survey, 80% of social media users said they were concerned about advertisers and businesses accessing the data they share on social media platforms2, and they aren’t just sitting around fretting to themselves. A separate PEW survey found 54% of Facebook Users adjusted their settings on the website seeking more privacy, in the last 12 months.3

Ad Blocking

Another way consumers are fighting back is by using ad blocking technology, which can prevent collection of user data in the background while browsing the internet. Globally, usage of ad blocking software has grown by 41% year over year.4 This growth has led to a total of 25% of US internet users (70 million people) regularly using ad blockers in 2018.5


user signing up to app with an ad blocker


Now we are seeing the trend towards greater privacy concern going beyond the typical installation of an ad blocking plugin, and extending into adoption of purpose built products. Brave is a web browser with ad blocking technology built into its core. By default, it will attempt to block all JavaScript execution on a webpage that may collect a user’s personal data. The result of this is a more secure, faster browsing experience, that will also save your battery and data if you are on a mobile device. Notably, Brave was co-founded by Brandon Eich, synonymous with the modern internet for his work with Netscape, Firefox, and the JavaScript programming language. Duckduckgo has long had a cult-like following for being a simple, lightning fast search engine that respects its users’ privacy. We are seeing both of these options in particular grow in popularity, but they certainly are not the only entrants into the field. Even Apple is getting into the mix. Entirely outside of the sphere of web software, the introduction of its new credit card focussed on privacy, signals a change in the function of data collection for serving ads on the internet.

Government Intervention

Legislators are listening to their constituencies and getting in on the action in various ways. Thus far in the US, this has only amounted to posturing by taking one position or another on the matter and public hearings. In a tense televised event, Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of congress in regard to the widely publicized Cambridge Analytica scandal. We’ve seen a number of major breaches in recent years, but this one was unique in its scope, and shock value of potentially aiding corruption of US elections.


Mark Zuckerberg testifying to congress on behalf of facebook Monsivais, Pablo Martinez (Photographer). (2018, Nov 4). Watch Mark Zuckerberg Testify Before Congress Live Right Here [digital image]. Retrieved from wired

In the EU, we have seen swift legislative action to meet the public’s concern. Most notably, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) legislation recently went into effect, creating a whole new web of regulations tech companies must comply with when collecting, handling, and storing data from citizens of the EU. An interesting feature of the new law is “the right to be forgotten”, which allows citizens’ to request in writing to any company that they would like their collected user data to be permanently deleted. Non-compliance can result in fines, and we’ve already seen a number of them doled out.

What does it mean?

Collecting limitless user data for the sake of selling, sharing, or providing native hyper-targeting features in ad products, is becoming a much riskier business model for tech companies. Further, we are seeing big players in the space pounce directly on this weakness, by providing consumers with options for cutting off the supply with their new products. Ads on the internet aren’t going anywhere (In fact, the Brave browser is shortly launching its own opt-in ads service despite blocking ads and javascript served directly by websites). What seems certain to us, is that we’ve wandered well past the point of acceptability for consumers, in regard to their privacy. The only option at this point is for tech companies to adapt to consumers’ desired use of their data. If they don’t, then we will likely seen more savvy companies take advantage of the opportunity at hand. Now that the business opportunity is clear, they certainly will.


In my next post, I will discuss ways businesses can continue to connect with likely customers in line with their expectations around personal data and privacy. Stay tuned!

Citations

  1. 2016 TRUSTe/NCSA Consumer Privacy Infographic - US Edition. Trustarc Privacy Compliance. Retrieved March 27, 2019 from Trustarc
  2. Raine, L. (2018, March 27). Americans’ complicated feelings about social media in an era of privacy concerns. Pew Research Center. Retreived from Pew
  3. Perrin, A. (2018, Sep 5). Americans are changing their relationship with Facebook. Pew Research Center. Retreived from Pew
  4. Saleh, K. Ad Blocking – Statistics and Trends. Invesp Blog. Retreived March 27, 2019 from Invesp
  5. Perrin, N. (2018, Dec 4). Demanding a Better Ad Experience. eMarketer. Retreived from eMarketer