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Are Consumer Attitudes Toward Privacy Changing?

Does DuckDuckGo’s business model — advertising without tracking consumer movements online or even consumer search behavior — signal a change in consumer attitudes and expectations? If so, what does it mean for B2C and B2B marketers?

First, if you haven’t heard of DuckDuckGo, no shame. Unless you’re at least a little geeky about privacy and digital marketing, the DuckDuckGo search engine probably would not be on your radar. And though they’ve been around since 2008, they’re also probably not large enough to qualify as a thorn in Google’s side.

Their ideas about privacy, though, certainly are on the radar of the search and advertising giant, as well as anyone who trades in consumer data.

DuckDuckGo is proving that it can operate a viable and profitable search and advertising business without tracking consumer activity.

The company is even expanding beyond the browser and has recently launched a tracking-free email service that strips tracking pixels and similar code out of the email that land in your inbox. Sign up and you get an @duck.com email address. That address forwards messages to your existing inbox after scanning each message for tracking tools and removing them. Which means that marketers aren’t getting the data they expect.

DuckDuckGo isn’t alone in this — Apple’s latest versions of iOS include similar features, so it appears that there may be a turning of the tide on consumer privacy.

I am certainly hearing more “civilian” consumers — by which I mean, those not in tech or marketing/advertising — talking about privacy issues. Most are fed up with what they view as invasive practices.

At the same time, the younger generations of consumers still seem comfortable in what might called a post-privacy world. They expect no privacy and behave as if there isn’t anything they need to guard or conceal.

I’m not convinced that their carefree ways will last further into adulthood, when what’s at stake goes from having to close their “Finsta” account because it’s been hacked to, say, potentially losing the house into which they’ve sunk a significant portion of their savings at the hands of an identity-theft operation.

If  I’m right about that change in attitudes from the current twenty-somethings, then the push toward more privacy and transparency surrounding consumer data will continue. Major consumer marketers will look to the generations that are maturing into their economic power to decide how to proceed on privacy.

Where does that leave us as marketers? Well, we can certainly work without third-party data, though it will be harder than what we’re used. We will also need to be more thoughtful in how we obtain first-party data.

But, the shift is really only one additional (albeit large and difficult) step along the path we should already be taking as marketers: engaging our target audience with content so compelling that we don’t need to track/stalk them to remind them we exist and are worth doing business with.

There is truth in the not-so-old saw that if you’re not the (paying) customer, you’re the product, and while I’m not so sure that the world of consumers is quite ready to pay for a search engine, no matter how comprehensive, they do seem ready to renegotiate the terms on which they will share their data. We marketers will have to change along with them.

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Andrew Schulkind

Since 1996, Andrew Schulkind has asked clients one simple question: what does digital marketing success look like, and how can marketing progress be measured? A veteran content marketer, web developer, and digital strategist, Andrew founded Andigo New Media to help firms find a more strategic and productive mix of tools that genuinely support online brand goals over time. With a passion for true collaboration and meaningful consensus, his work touches social media, search-engine optimization, and email marketing, among other components. He views is primary goal as encouraging engagement. Getting an audience involved in your story requires solid information architecture, a great user experience, and compelling content. A dash of common sense doesn’t hurt, either. Andrew has presented at Social Media Week NY and WordCampNYC, among other events, on content marketing and web-development topics. His technology writing appears on the Andigo blog, in a monthly column on Biznology.com, and for print and online publications like The New York Enterprise Report, Social Media Today, and GSG Worldwide’s publications LinkedIn & Business, Facebook & Business, and Tweeting & Business. Andrew graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Bucknell University. He engages in a range of community volunteer work and is an avid fly fisherman and cyclist. He also loves collecting meaningless trivia. (Did you know the Lone Ranger made his mask from the cloth of his brother's vest after his brother was killed by "the bad guys?")

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