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.

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.