Google Martech Data & Privacy

Can brands turn the tide for users’ fear of data misuse?


By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

September 8, 2021 | 6 min read

As first-party data becomes the great focus for digital advertising, brands are still dealing with the fallout of lax control of user data over the past few years. Now research from Google and Ipsos suggests that brands can aid in rebuilding user confidence around the use of their data – and improve digital advertising along the way.

data privacy

Data privacy changes could potentially benefit the brands that get it right

Most of the major changes in digital advertising – and therefore how we interact with much of the internet – stem from concerns about data privacy. Users are reportedly significantly more aware of both the value of their own information and instances of data misuse than ever before. But that awareness has not contributed to a positive view of companies seeking to make use of that data, even while the ad industry is still scrambling to adapt to changes that prioritise data privacy above all else.

Two new pieces of research from Ipsos and the Boston Consulting Group, in collaboration with Google, reaffirm some of those issues but also demonstrate that users can be won over when their data is used effectively. For marketers, the scary top-level stat is that almost three-quarters (73%) of internet users aged 16-74 are “concerned about how the information collected about them when they go online is used”. That’s especially worrying given that many sites have been criticized for being opaque with their data terms, despite requirements to disclose that information.

As a result only 3% of respondents believe they have complete control of the disclosure and removal of their data online, and more than two-thirds (68%) of those surveyed said they felt sceptical about the way companies used their data in marketing.

Despite that, the research also indicates that when users are given greater information and control they are much more likely to feel positively about marketing.

Claire Norburn, Google’s UK ads privacy lead, says UK consumers are largely aware of how data is used and stored: “With 59% of UK consumers indicating that they have a good understanding of how their personal data is used for online marketing purposes, I’m confident that they are most certainly aware. Luckily we see this positive trend across EMEA where 55% of respondents feel they know a great deal or at least quite a bit about the ways companies use their data in marketing and how they can manage the data they share online. These are obviously figures we want to see rise in the coming years.

“Brands should keep in mind that participants who felt close to a brand were more likely to give the brand permission to show them valuable offers based on more detailed data. When marketers give consumers a greater sense of control over how their data is being used, they should make meaningful campaigns which communicate the value of the data exchange to customers.”

She advises that brands should therefore take a proactive approach to informing users about the use of their data, to bring the consumer into the conversation. As a result the research also found that “those surveyed were three times more likely to respond positively to advertising when they felt a greater sense of control over how their data was being used… and the closer someone is to making a purchase, the more likely they are to perceive ads as relevant to them and have positive emotions after seeing them.”

There are difficulties in doing that effectively, however. Users cite interruptive pop-ups – even ones that contain useful information – as negatively impacting their user journeys on sites. Cross-platform tracking is similarly difficult to do well, and relies on users being signed-in for consent across devices. There have also been several high-profile instances of data misuse and leaks that have negatively impacted user attitudes to data across the wider ecosystem.

The role of brands

Katherine Jameson Armstrong, head of qualitative media research at Ipsos Mori, said: “Our research shows how important it is for brands to get privacy right. This is a complex area and people’s attitudes and behaviours can be contradictory. In this context, it is easy to misstep and risk a loss of trust and respect.

“However, brands can play a vital role in helping people navigate this complex area by making interactions more meaningful, manageable, and memorable, creating stronger relationships in the process.”

Norburn believes that the trend back towards data privacy – while it undoubtedly benefits the bigger players like Google – will have a positive impact across the ecosystem. She also argues that the conversation is not over even with this latest raft of changes, that further tech developments and changing cultural attitudes mean the issue of data privacy will be an ongoing consideration: “Privacy is such a personal choice and with that in mind, every user should be able to review and manage the way their data is used and be comfortable with that. Opting out of or managing the frequency of marketing communications is part of that choice.”

“Best practise looks like focusing on building a privacy safe web for everyone where users are informed and in control, where publishers can fund quality content built on loyal and trusting user relationships, and where advertisers achieve great results through precision and accountability.”

With only 3% of the population currently confident they have full control of the disclosure and removal of their online data there is a long way to go. That almost three quarters of users have concerns about the use of their data online speaks to a need for alignment across the entire industry to ensure privacy genuinely is paramount, and not just a buzzword.

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