Don’t wait for Google: Set your brand’s own privacy timeline

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Five dates stand out in the dizzying narrative of Google’s on-again, off-again cookie deprecation strategy.

January 2020: “Google announces it will overhaul Chrome by removing cookies that follow people around the web within two years.”

March 2021: Google launches FloC — “a machine learning technique that allows many clients (browsers) to work together to form a centralized model without exchanging actual sample data.”

That utopian collaboration didn’t exactly pan out because a few months later:

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June 2021: “Google‘s plan to deprecate third-party cookies by Q2 2022 will be delayed by almost two years.” The explanation was that “publishers, advertisers and web developers [need] time to test and build feasible alternatives.”

January 2022: Google says it is scrapping FloC and replacing it with a new system called Topics.

July 2022: Google delays the end of third-party cookies from 2023 to the second half of 2024.

If you’re a brand you might be scratching your brand head and wondering what your strategy should be and what actions you should be taking. Should you just postpone everything until Google finally weighs in?  

Here are three reasons brands shouldn’t wait for Google and why business-as-usual is a strategic mistake that could backfire on your fundamental trust relationship with your consumers, your most important asset.

Your consumers are ahead of Google (and probably ahead of you)

They have spoken clearly.  

And in doing so, they have exposed a massive privacy gap, with 93% of Americans saying that being able to control their data is important. But only nine percent report they had “a lot of control” over the data that is collected.  

What’s more, 47% of respondents in a recent survey indicated that they “try to purchase more from brands that clearly outline how, where, and when their data is being used.”

Stunningly, another 30% said they only purchase from brands that demonstrate transparency, underscoring the growing importance of data privacy amongst consumers. 

So, what can you do to close the gap and keep up with — and in fact stay ahead of — the demands of your consumers?

Here are four suggestions:

  1. Begin the elimination of privacy-invading tools from your media plants.
  2. Let your consumers know that privacy matters to you as a core principle — and I am talking about more than just the obligatory language in your terms and conditions. For example, introduce them to your Chief Privacy Officer (CPO) — and if you don’t have one, fill the position quickly.  
  3. Provide visible transparency. Have your CPO do an audit of the privacy practices of every single company that has access to your data and share the results on a regular basis.
  4. Participate in public conversations about privacy — including the current FTC comment period about the agency’s proposed regulations on data privacy and security.

Don’t delay! Brands were late to recognize consumer demands for preservative-free, sugar-free, GMO-free and antibiotic-free products. They were late in recognizing consumer passion for products that treated workers fairly; today there are more than 1.6 million Fair Trade Certified producers, with more than 700 social, economic and environmental protections.

Brands trumpet their environmental commitment and their philanthropy, but they don’t use their megaphones to amplify their respect for consumer privacy — because most of them do not have anything to say. 

Get ahead of regulation, get ahead of the conversation, and gain competitive advantage. It’s that simple.

Privacy is an opportunity to demonstrate innovation

Consumers are innovation-seeking missiles; they want the brands in their lives to bring them new ideas and fresh thinking. The data is compelling: 84% of consumers say it is important that the companies they buy from be innovative. When a brand utilizes new technology to meet the privacy demands of its consumers, it is as much a signal of innovation as new products and platforms are.

Marketers should aggressively seek out and test innovative solutions that leverage the latest in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and neural networks to deliver cookieless solutions that are superior to the privacy-invading alternatives.  

Contextual targeting will be part of that, but they are one-dimensional and do not factor in how users respond to a broad range of message content. New solutions need to weave together full signal integration. 

Congress is in lockstep with consumers 

A study by WhoTracks.Me found that around 82% of web traffic contains third-party scripts by Google. The extent of the problem is moving Congress to act. 

Privacy has become a political issue.   

A bipartisan bill called the American Data Privacy and Protection Act was introduced in June whose mission, simply stated, is “To provide consumers with foundational data privacy rights, create strong oversight mechanisms, and establish meaningful enforcement.”  

Of course, the bill will morph, bend and twist, as legislation always does, but the point is that legislators are visibly frustrated by the continual erosion of privacy rights, so-called “surveillance capitalism” — and are not waiting for Google or others to self-police. On another front, the FTC announced an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on August 11, 2022, to explore “Rules Cracking Down on Commercial Surveillance and Lax Data Security Practices.”

There’s a German word, zeitenwende, which means a turning point in time. We have clearly reached that point, and brands cannot take false comfort in Google’s delay or in the ambiguity of the current situation. 

Marketing Dive accurately states that “the picture of what a cookieless future will look like has yet to come into focus, despite stark warnings from experts and shifting marketer priorities.”

My advice is for marketers to seize this opportunity and shape the picture themselves.

Seek out the smartest, newest technologies and implement them.  

We are seeing the convergence of privacy concerns with the sweeping ESG movement, which means that the urgency for brands to address online privacy has been elevated beyond a consumer issue to a corporate one.

In fact, the SEC is considering far stronger ESG reporting guidelines; it is not difficult to conceive that these will involve disclosing the use of cookies, and the FTC is putting new privacy regulations in motion right now.

In short: Google is a giant. But waiting for Google to deprecate cookies before you act on your own would be a giant mistake.

Doron Gerstel is CEO of Perion.

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