For the Customer-Brand Relationship, Consent Is King

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To be tracked or not to be tracked online. That should be the question, but we too seldom get asked (or asked with the right intentions).

Take Apple’s iOS 14.5 update. It’s garnering a lot of attention recently over the company’s big-time proclamations about privacy and choice. Apple says it’s giving users a greater amount of control over how the apps we regularly use track us. App operators (like Facebook) must now actively ask users for their consent in order to use or decline the Identification for Advertisers (IDFA), Apple’s own advertising ID that app operators use to display targeted advertising. 

In return, companies like Facebook are pretty mad. Because under this new iOS release, when a user downloads a new app and the first question asked via a pop-up is, “Do you want to be tracked by this app?” Given what we know now about how well these types of companies safeguard our private information, it’s likely few will say yes. With a single click most will decide against sharing any of their personal data. The result: Immediate restriction of app tracking for marketing purposes.

So is the decision as simple as it seems? Perhaps not.

Generally speaking, Facebook’s stance is that the collection of personal info helps it do positive things, including personalizing ads for users and keeping the app free. Moreover, Facebook also has a point that simply opting out without understanding the impact is not a reasonable solution to the issue of consent proposed by iOS 14.5.

While on the surface this may appear like a glorious data privacy move on Apple’s part, designed to protect iOS users, I say: Don’t be fooled. Maybe the company that tells its legions of fans year after year that its $750-plus iPhone is no longer the “best ever” and that they should quickly preorder the latest model really does care about us. I fear that with this latest update, however, Apple has swung the app consent pendulum too far in one direction—their own pockets, to be precise. By more or less shutting down Facebook’s and others’ app tracking capabilities for marketing, Apple opens the door to it monopolizing ads on iOS devices. I predict we’ll soon see “ad-attacking”—the very thing that Apple says it’s preventing others from doing—start back up again, but this time the vast majority of the revenue will go to Apple. And with a bunch of targeted ads showing up on devices again, people around the world will once more lose faith in companies’ abilities to do right by them and their data privacy.

What Should User Consent Done Right Look Like?

I hope we do reach a point where all companies want to practice consent management, not only because the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), and the iOS app tracking transparency force them to, but because they recognize the impact of user consent to the brand-customer relationship.

After years of data misuse—tracking and selling people’s data for marketing purposes without their knowledge or say so—brands need consumers to start trusting their data practices again. The way to do that is for companies to be transparent with their customers around not only asking for their data consent but explaining the impact.

Companies need to communicate how they plan to use our data. Users need to see companies not only want to give them choice, but that there’s also a fair value exchange for their personal information. The user should get to choose which added value offerings—such as the ability to receive personalized offers or free goods and services—they are willing to make the data sacrifice for. This can be a crucial missing part in consent. People are often unaware of which functions of a website are affected by their opt-in. Function-based consent allows for specific page content—be it YouTube videos, Google Maps, or sharing buttons—to only be locked or unlocked by consent, for example. 

It’s a fairer way of managing data consent for the user. They get education and can tailor their choice to suit their needs; it’s not so black and white as Apple iOS 14.5. But it’s also the best path forward for brands—only when they’re transparent, informative, and create a clear value exchange do they secure something better than immediate ad revenue: customers’ trust.

Philip Kushmaro is the vice president of marketing at Usercentrics, a consent management platform. Kushmaro is a software engineer that hasn't coded a day after graduation and loves the marketing and digital marketing world enough to make it his passion and job for the past 11-plus years.

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