A new bill has been proposed by U.S. Senator Al Franken which calls for users to be allowed to grant explicit permission for companies to access their location data in order to advertise to them. While users of iPhones, for example, have to select to allow an app to use their location information, exactly what you’re allowing, which includes passing information to third parties, is unclear. What this bill proposes is that there be a stage where the user grants consent for their location information to be shared with third parties. If passed, the bill could have a huge impact for location ad providers on mobile devices, affecting both service providers and developers.
This is the first time a bill has been proposed in relation to mobile privacy and it represents an important shift as we move to a permission-based economy. Named the ‘Location Privacy Protection Act of 2011,’ the title alone shows how pervasive local social networking has become and the legal implications that arise as these services develop. The bill could set the tone for the new currency of permission, which will become paramount as social media marketing develops.
EU bill passed for permission to set cookies
Interestingly, along with the proposed bill in the U.S., the E.U. recently passed a law that requires sites to obtain explicit permission from the user to access and use their respective data. While this has long been standard practice for the likes of email marketers to add user information to email lists, what this bill covers is far more extensive, including express permission when using tracking mechanics such as setting cookies on a site. This permission can be granted either through an explicit popup, for example, or it can be implied, as in Germany, that by using a browser that accepts cookies, you thereby authorise individual sites to set cookies. Expect a large portion of companies to opt for the latter, as it doesn’t interrupt the user experience or present a possible a barrier to entry. Considering these two bills together shows that we are steadily moving into a permission-based economy, where more and more emphasis is placed on individual privacy to protect against new and unfamiliar communication methods.
Some may argue that this was too long coming. I have always had a problem with the hierarchy system that’s developed through social media. It divides the tech-savvy who know how to protect themselves online, those who find out the hard way and those who have no idea what information they’re sharing online. Changes like the proposed location bill emphasise respect for the individual user. If companies and providers must obtain certain permissions by consent rather than default, the user gains more control. Before now, companies were able to use social technology in almost any way possible to reach consumers. Now, they could face certain barriers as users explicitly decide whether to grant access. This creates a new currency of permission online that users and brands will begin to trade in.
The location bill is not the only proposal in this field. It comes amidst a range of bills that specifically address permission and individual protection, such as theft of intellectual property and the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011, which looks close to being passed. All of these bills are designed with the user in mind, specifically considering users’ access to data gathered about them and the power to block companies from gathering this data at all. These bills are necessary now due to the huge influx of information that is shared and collected online. As we create more and more profiles on social networks, and steadily build up the vast information shared on even just one channel – think of all the tweets you’ve sent since you opened an account – there need to be stricter rules in place to protect the individual. The user would have the power under these proposals, as a brand would have to demonstrate that they deserve access to information.
Essentially, this will force brands to work harder to build up their ability to trade in permission. When the user is in control, they become more selective in granting access to personal information. And this is where companies have a real responsibility to encourage the user to ‘trade’ in their permission. As with the location bill, individuals are only likely to grant this permission if they have consistently satisfactory service. If the ad presentation enhances their experience, they will gladly grant permission; if it doesn’t, they’ll have no problem blocking you next time. This presents possibly the biggest challenge that brands and marketers will face. Up until now, their access to users online and their data has been relatively easy, if they know how to engage them. But now, the risk of bad marketing means that users might decide to stop trading in permission and block companies from their online experience altogether.
Companies will trade in trust
While the bills in the U.S. have not been passed, they reflect the measures being put in place to protect individuals and raise higher on the chain of command in social technology. This is especially needed now with the rise of location services, which use sensitive information in unfamiliar ways. As the individual becomes more aware of their control over how companies and advertisers can access them, they will carefully choose who to share information with. As social media usage proliferates, users will ultimately have to decide who gets their information, which is at a premium. More than just smart marketing, this also requires trust. Clicking on an ad is one thing, but clicking to expressly allow access to personal information is quite another. As users gain more control over permission that can be traded, the company or service has the opportunity to develop the trust to enable this exchange.
This shift towards the permission economy is good news consumers and brands alike. Users enjoy more control over how their information is shared and stored; brands, service providers and sites benefit from further developing relationships with users. If brands can successfully persuade users to grant permission, users will have an improved experience and brands can interact with consumers who have more invested in the service. This is a challenge, but a good one.
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