Since the birth of the internet we’ve seen the rise of powerful online technology that has significantly impacted our daily lives. In 2010 Scott Brinker introduced the term MarTech and visualized it with the MarTech Landscape. Beginning with only 150 companies, the Lumascape has now surpassed 11,000+. That’s a lot of venture capital…and, I can speak from 2 decades of experience, a ton of lost sleep for the industry. When I began as a server side web developer back in 1999 I was immersed in data-driven ideas which eventually became know as SaaS products (back then, the term Software as a Service hadn’t been popularized yet). As I progressed in my profession from web developer to consulting engineer to technical account manager to customer success manager and then into leadership roles, many of the startups I worked for were mostly all blade and no handle. It was both gold rush and war, and I was one of the first on the battlefield to take the bullets. The startups I worked for created the technology, but often would not win in the marketplace. It’s been a fascinating journey.
Most of the companies and orgs I worked for were service-first and invented new technologies. Originally being altruistic, few of us imagined that most of these technologies would eventually be weaponized against us, but it didn’t take long at all. CMS. Personalization. Web Analytics. Behavioral Targeting. Programmatic Advertising. SSPs. DMPs. CDPs. We can agree that these technologies can (should) all be used to make our lives better, at least for those who want them to exist. For example, if we want to know the lowest price on a product, or the best quality, you don’t really have to do too much to ensure that you receive that information prior to buying. Shopping and research has never been easier in the history of mankind. I can learn how to do almost anything with YouTube, and with product reviews get a feel for which products are likely to be the best ones for my needs. Making an educated choice online easy is a stunning accomplishment.
But with every new technology emerges a new problem. It’s inescapable. The challenge that has existed since the days of dial-up modems has been the notion of respecting an individual’s Privacy and Consent Preferences. If a visitor to a website doesn’t want to be tracked, they shouldn’t be tracked. At all. Certainly none of us should be tricked into downloading a desktop or mobile app that tracks our very move. If we sign up for that, fine. But if we are fooled into it then that’s nothing short of malware and spying. In the past 10 years we’ve seen excellent progress in privacy laws, and progressively over the past 3 years we’ve seen aggressive enforcement of GDPR, CCPA, CPRA,Australian Privacy Act, Canada's PIPEDA, and COPPA laws. In the USA, many states are adopting their own privacy laws to protect their citizens. EU Member Countries continue to refine their own country’s approach to protecting their citizens as well.
So the time is right for creating a more granular public view into how websites are doing regarding privacy and consent. There are now plenty of affordable (and free) tools that exist for any company to be privacy-first, and visitors expect their privacy wishes to be honored. Not just to the letter of the law, but to the level of what the website visitor actually expects. And what should any given website visitor expect? Well, this is yet another reason for creating clear visibility into the world of online privacy and consent.
A bunch of like-minded professionals in both AdTech and MarTech, government, and non-profits have been gathering together to help the public understand what’s going on in the world of privacy and consent— specifically with a focus on the very basics. This coalition is in its very infancy, and there’s a lot of territory to cover. We’re calling it the Safe Consumer Advocacy Network, or SCAN. We’d like everyone who uses the www to be a part of this, because frankly, it will make the digital world a better place.
As we organize further and begin our journey, we’ll be writing our own content, leading with privacy-first in mind, and educating the public on the best ways to browse the internet safely. We’ll provide site analysis across business verticals, to reveal where improvement is needed. Consumers and visitors can then choose which companies they want to avoid or embrace. It is our hope that business will change, truly showing (not just telling) the world that they are privacy-first. Maybe those companies who aren’t trying very hard will realize that their visitors (customers) expect more from them.
Awareness is the theme here. We’re coming from a good place and are hopeful that businesses will take individual privacy extremely seriously. From the business point of view, it’s time to shift the thinking from buyer-beware to buyer-we-have-your-back ! If we take the analogy of being a responsible driver, the law says that on a two-lane highway you must stay in your lane, not cross the lines, always focus on the road, and drive at a safe speed. It doesn’t mean that you’ll be perfect, but adhering to the law means you are much less likely to harm others or yourself. Can we at least agree that this is the right place for all online businesses to begin?
Businesses - you’ve probably already invested in consent and privacy tools. But how do you ensure that they are always working on every page at every moment? Individuals - do you understand what privacy is and what you’ll need to do to ensure that you’ve taken simple steps not to be tracked against your wishes? Do you understand the consequences of browsing content and products on certain websites?
Privacy and Consent is a lighting rod topic. Nobody is every going to achieve perfection, and there’s no silver bullet to solving the enforcement challenges. This is yet another reason for creating a community who expects businesses in the online world to show whether they are privacy-first or not.