3 Steps to Protect Consumer Privacy and Be FTC Compliant

Recently, the FTC and the White House have published recommendations and pushed for legislation for internet advertisers to help protect consumers’ privacy. It’s become harder than ever to be anonymous on the internet; with Cookiegate fresh in the memories of Commission members, the FTC’s report, “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change,” is a framework for responsible data privacy. Businesses collecting reasonably anonymous data from under 14 daily consumer visitors won’t be required to follow such rules, but the paper offers simple ways for most web sites and mobile apps to respect customer privacy. These three steps can help you respect your customers, be FTC complaint, and give your site an air of trust to aid conversions.

1. Revise Your Privacy Policy: Do You Really Need That?

[A quick survey of 5 of our clients shows an overall increase in traffic of 64% to pages with “privacy” or “terms” in their urls]

Privacy policies, often a page linked to from the footer with little time spent on it, are an integral part of the framework. It suggests that users prefer being able to find the reasons for information to be gathered. Linking or displaying your privacy policy in prominent places, like near locations where you’re gathering data, can increase trust with your consumers and fully inform them of what is going to be tracked on that action. This opportunity to explain every piece of data mined may provide an opportunity to trim the fat from your data collection policies.

At your online storefront, it’s important for both conversion optimization and for consumer privacy to limit the amount of data collected. Consider form fields: a user providing their zip code is also providing their city and state, so there’s no reason to ask for them for both privacy and conversion reasons. Similarly, if email is a required field, try out asking for the phone number later in the conversion funnel than the initial form; this is a more personal connection your customers would rather not part with so soon. Additionally, limit retargeting if the consumer purchases, especially from that display campaign. These small changes can make a large difference in both consumer confidence and can help more people take the action you want.

2. Give Your Privacy Protection Some Teeth: Do Not Track Supercookie
Privacy policies are suggested to undergo a radical change, becoming dashboards to fully control any sensitive data collection. Some major data services already offer a link next to ads to turn off specific kinds of targeting, but a business that collects identifiable information might want more individualized control for their site. Ironically, one solution is to set a site-wide cookie if someone selects “Do Not Track.” This particular example turns off the AdWords remarketing code with a year-long cookie called DNT. While of course a marketer would rather that cookie not be set, the button will allow your users to establish trust with your business and give your community an easy way to handle customer inquiries.


Remove me from your online marketing

This code can be used to create the basics of a privacy dashboard to leave it to the user to choose what ads they might see. While that might mean less impressions for your campaign, this voluntary removal will make sure that people expressly uninterested are removed from your target audience, raising your clickthrough rate without spending more.

3. Reduce “Take It or Leave It” User Experience
Finally, the report focuses on the lack of consumer choice in the “take it or leave it” paradigm of site development. While most site traffic functions on this kind of acceptance of site terms, this experience has been expanded most recently into blocking site access. A perfect example of this is Yahoo news content, which if clicked from Facebook, requires the user to sign up via Facebook to view the content at all.

[Not forbidden, but discouraged in the report. Note the three privacy policy notices -- explicit, but hardly easily understood.]

This form of marketing, while an excellent tool for both marketers to mine data and users to have relevant stories targeted to them, shouldn’t block access to the site itself. This “take it or leave it” approach frustrates the user by blocking any content behind the walled garden, driving the reader to find the same information at a competitor’s site.

The solution, of course, isn’t to ignore the value of frictionless sharing and other apps, but rather to provide the content whether or not the user clicks through to the website. For sites without such frictionless sharing, consider changing the privacy policy from “By using this website you agree to…” to “We track you for this purpose. If this is not acceptable, click here to disable.” One can certainly disincentivize that click by explaining what parts of the site will not work, but simply having the option will provide consumer choice and consumer loyalty.

Despite the tone and scope of the framework, the report recognizes that much data is used in a fair and unproblematic way. Small businesses shouldn’t worry about attaching Google Analytics to their site, much as they wouldn’t worry about putting a chime on the front door to their storefront. However, in the ever-expanding world of online apps, information collection, and “big data” analysis, the FTC and your potential customers want businesses to be keenly aware that online visitors are people too. These 3 steps will keep your online marketing efforts accessible and amenable to all visitors, while giving them the opportunity to protect themselves if they see fit.

About The Author

Douglas Thomas is a Google Adwords Certified and Microsoft Adcenter Accredited member of the Paid Search and Production teams at Search Influence, an Inc 500 website promotion company. He writes on a variety of topics surrounding Internet promotion, including coding, research, data mining, and news. Find his latest SEO writing at his author page, follow him @ferkungamabooboo, or add him to your circles on .

4 Response to 3 Steps to Protect Consumer Privacy and Be FTC Compliant

  1. Anne on June 6, 2012

    Eww the dreaded Federal trade commission; regulating us.

    I have to say your page made understanding things like our privacy policy easy to find. I know people who are involved setting up a business online and have been a little unsure what exactly needs to be put. I know their is an entire section on a California law regarding privacy as well, and not to mention children under 13.

  2. Becca on June 9, 2012

    That is really impressive, I had heard of this before but never read up on it. I will have to go and see if there is anything I am interested in.

  3. Penna Confidence on June 22, 2012

    Here I would like to add google too is taking privacy pages seriously now and new users to adsense are expected to have a well-written Privacy page on their sites..

  4. Agentii imobiliare on July 26, 2012

    there is alot of programming in there. I am already feeling dizzy :))) well Privacy policy is very good, and very good seing by customers also, not only by Google!

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