Privacy worries? You’re not alone.

by Kirsten McMullen, Chief Privacy Officer Google, "mobile advertising", privacy
Privacy worries? You’re not alone.

Thanks to the recent repeal of Obama-era privacy rules applying to internet service providers, there has been a lot of news and hyperbole about what this means for consumer privacy. Every time I saw a Facebook friend angrily post “I’m going to buy my congressman’s browsing history,” I had to restrain myself from responding  “That’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this works!”  (Thanks for the catchphrase, Esurance!)
The rhetoric was so out-of-hand that the chairman of the FCC and the acting chairman of the FTC took to the Washington Post with an op-ed on the topic. A summary of the issue from the IAPP offers a more balanced look at the issues involved. Either way, a few things are clear. Consumers care about their privacy. The FTC is committed to enforcing privacy regulations on behalf of consumers. Lastly, regulatory jurisdiction over broadband provider’s privacy and data security practices is still unclear.
Luckily the broadband providers are more clear.  Both AT&T and Comcast made public statements regarding their own privacy principals. Both companies support the ability of their customers to opt-out from targeted advertising. And most of all, they want and need their customer’s trust. Without the confidence of their customers, they will lose business over privacy issues. I believe that this core value will keep the ISPs focused on providing consumers with the privacy they expect. Contrast this with Google, which now openly engages in personally identifiable web tracking and Facebook, which tracks people across the internet (and if you’re registered at Facebook, then you’re not anonymous either).  There’s one thing all of these companies have in common though: most consumers are not aware of what data they’re sharing and how it may be used. Not for lack of trying by the companies. But the truth is that most consumers don’t care enough to wade through a 5,000-10,000+ word privacy policy.   They make 4INFO’s privacy policy look slim at 2363 words!
Here’s the part where I talk about 4INFO. We are not a broadband provider, nor are we Google or Facebook, so this regulatory battle doesn’t impact us much. But it’s an opportunity for us to let the world know that we are highly committed to consumer privacy. We actively look for ways to improve consumer privacy protections on an ongoing basis.  First a few words of plain English on what we do:  we collect data from the ads (or spaces for ads) from apps or mobile web sites viewed on mobile devices. The apps and mobile web sites send data to an exchange, who sends it to us. Those apps and sites are required to tell their users that they’re collecting data for advertising and sharing it with third parties (hi, that’s us). If they’re sending us your location, the app or site has to have asked you to actively agree to share your location with them. And buried in the app’s privacy policy, it should say that they’re going to share it with third parties (that’s us again). We use that data to deliver you advertising that we think will interest you and drive value for the brands that choose 4INFO for their advertising delivery.  Please note, this whole paragraph is a vast simplification. As soon as you go into greater detail,  we’ll be pushing that 10,000 word mark and nobody wants that.
What if you don’t want 4INFO doing what I just described?  If you have “limit ad tracking” turned on for your mobile device, then we don’t keep or use the data we get from it and we won’t send you an interest-based ad either. Also, if you opt-out from receiving 4INFO’s interest-based advertising (there are a few ways to do it), then we also don’t keep or use your data.  We don’t want to collect data from anybody who doesn’t want to share it. Yeah, it’s hard to know you’re sharing it… I get it.  But posts like these are meant to level the playing field – to give consumers a better shot at controlling what information they share and how it is used. Pay attention to the apps and sites you use, and what they do with your data, and take control of what you share with companies like us.