The simple answer: If you’re a consumer, no. If you’re a marketer, yes.
Advertising Age’s recent features on consumer data brings up some interesting points for us practitioners.
- Sophisticated Health Data Industry Needs Self-Reflection
- Anonymized! Now They’ll Never Find You!
- How Anonymous Is Your Data?
Basically, our industry tends to believe that if a consumer has a “relationship” with a company (i.e., they responded to a campaign or bought something) and they provided their personally identifiable information (PII), then they’re fair game for marketing. PII is defined as…
“…any data that could potentially identify a specific individual. Any information that can be used to distinguish one person from another and can be used for de-anonymizing anonymous data can be considered PII.”
A CTO of leading database marketing company adds that for those prospects who have no established customer relationship, “PII and non-PII will never go together.”
But often all you need to target a prospect is enough to infer that they fit your buyer profile, even if you don’t know their name.
“Researchers from the University of Texas found that knowledge of the precise ratings given to six obscure movies yielded an 84% chance of reidentification of the person. Knowledge of when a person rated any six movies, regardless of their obscurity, yielded a 99% chance.”
And it can be a fine line between knowing enough about a prospect and knowing “too much.” For example, imagine a drug marketer who sends an coupon offer to your household – or targets your IP address with a digital display ad – without naming individuals. “Does somebody in your household suffer from (ailment)? If so, they may want to try XYZ medication…”
Technically, they have “anonymized” any PII because they don’t address an individual by name. And that may comply with HIPAA regulations, too.
The articles portray a possible future where industry self-regulation isn’t enough, their lobbyists prevent any meaningful laws being passed, and privacy subsequently runs amuck. “Imagine the health insurer denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on a user’s online bacon obsession that foretells of future clogged arteries.”
Or… “What if I’m a single guy with an interesting set of health problems. I’ve been to the doctor and maybe used Web M.D. Does it matter if marketers don’t know my name if, when my girlfriend uses my computer to Google a hot new restaurant, all of the ads being served are for herpes medications and ointments for super-persistent hemorrhoids?”
Interestingly, while public outcry about privacy and using PII seems to be significantly less than it was 10 years ago, the challenges still persist.
So as one of our team members says, “If you’re a marketer, it’s fascinating. If you’re a consumer, it might be creepy.”