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Data Deep Dive Data & Privacy Media

Your privacy systems could be just a Hollywood façade – and you may not even know it

By Jon Suarez-Davis, Chief strategy officer

May 9, 2023 | 8 min read

Permission means nothing if it isn’t anchored in meaningful consumer choice and control, argues Ketch‘s Jon Suarez-David as part of The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, The New Data & Privacy Playbook.


In the new data economy, permission will be ubiquitous. Consumers expect agency over how their data is used, and regulators – from Europe to California and beyond –are determined to give it to them. To enable data-driven innovation and growth, organizations will need to secure clear permission from data subjects and dependably reflect those signals across the entirety of their operations.

Unfortunately, that remains challenging for most organizations. Many consent tools lack effective orchestration to enforce consumer decisions as they flow down through data ecosystems. Others fail to deliver a transparent user experience that truly puts consumers in control. The result: a Hollywood façade of privacy, with the performative collection of consent but not the transparency and control needed to truly put consumers in charge.

Systems that depend on this type of consent theater are all surface and no substance: they provide the appearance of control, but no meaningful agency. This is an emerging problem that brands can’t afford to ignore. To prepare for a world of fully permissioned data, we need to do the work now to build better models of collecting and managing consent – and to put real consumer control at the heart of the new data economy.

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The Hollywood façade disempowers consumers

There are two main aspects to the Hollyfood façade of privacy. The first is the illusion that consent signals are being respected: organizations collect consent but fail to enforce it. Superficially, it looks like data subjects are in control – but behind the curtain, there’s no orchestration of consent signals across the organization or broader data ecosystem.

This approach is especially dangerous because it can fool organizations into believing they’ve done what’s needed, when in fact they’ve only created the illusion of compliance. In an era of muscular enforcement and consumer awareness of privacy, misplaced complacency creates significant risk for brands.

Businesses should empower consumers to make meaningful privacy choices and respect those choices downstream. This starts with transparency. As I’ve written elsewhere, transparency puts the ’informed’ into informed consent; with it, consumers literally don’t know what they’re agreeing to.

And more information isn’t always better. We’ve all clicked through to a website and been interrupted by pop-up banners and screenfuls of legalistic smallprint. Instead of making an informed decision, the consumer is reduced to clicking at annoying banners to make them go away.

Regulators are paying attention to practices designed to manipulate consent: the EU’s Cookie Banner Taskforce, for instance, has warned against using contrasting colors and pre-checked selection boxes to nudge users into ’agreeing’ to share data. TikTok, meanwhile, was recently fined for offering users a single button to accept cookies but requiring multiple clicks to reject them.

Dark patterns of this sort leave consumers feeling short-changed and mistrustful. Small wonder that regulators are treating brands like children, and mandating the precise language required for notifications and consent requests – or calling for new models encompassing automation and global privacy controls. In a regulator’s mind, perhaps brands have shown they can’t be trusted to get this right; clearly, we need to do something differently and it’s the perfect opportunity for marketers to step into the conversation.

What does real control look like?

So how can brands avoid the Hollywood façade and deliver meaningful transparency and control for their users?

Clearly, organizations need robust orchestration to reflect consent signals across their data systems. Automated discovery, to surface sensitive data and map new regulations and consumer decisions onto existing datasets, is also essential. Finally, brands need to proactively manage complex issues such as third-party data processing and deletion.

But consumer control also requires an empowering user experience. Going through the motions with legalistic notifications that badger users to click away their rights isn’t good enough. Brands need informative but intuitive systems that combine clarity and convenience, making it effortless for consumers to grant, review, revoke, or expand consent as they engage with your product.

Achieving that will require new technologies, including smart permission centers, easy-to-access consent interfaces, and automated discovery tools. We’ll also see brands using permission vaults to proactively respect users’ wishes without bombarding them with permission requests.

A new model for consumer control

Consumers have seen behind the façade: they know what their data is worth, and aren’t willing to surrender it to companies that try to fool them. Part of what they find frustrating, though, is that they want to be able to trust brands and to share data without feeling like they’re being bamboozled.

Brands that get this right have the chance to fire up a flywheel of positive reinforcement. The more consumers trust you, the more data they’ll share – and the more you handle their data responsibly as part of an empowering and convenient exchange of value, the more trust you’ll earn.

To satisfy consumers and regulators, brands need to step up and reimagine the way they collect and orchestrate consent. New technologies offer an opportunity to fuse meaningful transparency with real consumer control, ensuring data processes align with what customers really want. That’s the way to win trust – and unlock enduring success in the modern data economy.

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Jon Suarez-Davis is chief strategy officer at Ketch.

To read more from The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, where we’ll be demystifying data & privacy for marketers in 2023, head over to our special hub.

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