This is a recent Article I published for work, and I thought it fit to share here as well.

Internet Privacy
Creative Commons License photo credit: o5com

It seems like you can’t open a news feed these days without being inundated with stories about privacy. Network data breaches. Location-based tracking. Court injunctions. It’s a minefield out there.

Nowhere is privacy more closely watched — or as potentially explosive — as in the field of online marketing. The integration of social media into virtually everyone’s personal and professional lives has brought digital privacy to public and regulatory attention like never before.

So you are hardly alone in wondering: Just what is fair game when it comes to online marketing? And what, as a marketer, do I need to do to protect my brand?

Well, first off, privacy laws are evolving fast — really fast — and vary significantly from country to country. On May 25, the European Union introduced a new privacy directive that permits its 27 member states to determine individually whether anyone doing online marketing of any sort must obtain full consent, including the permission to install cookies (It will be interesting to see how it all plays out). In the United States, there are strong efforts underway to tighten online privacy protections — and further regulation is virtually inevitable. Canada, meanwhile, has some of the most well recognized and respected privacy legislation in the world. Online marketing is governed by the Personal Information Protection and Electronics Document Act, or PIPEDA and forthcoming is Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL or otherwise known as Bill C-28). Transcontinental Interactive has recently conducted a webinar and released a whitepaper on the implications of Bill C-28 for marketers and how you can get ready for it.

Privacy is no longer just a legal issue, however. It is also an ethical and reputation concern — and it promises to be a hot topic for a long time to come. Generally speaking, public sentiment deems certain business practices, such as basic Web analytics, reasonable and acceptable — on the premise that gathering that data will result in enhancements to the user experience. Hidden tactics to collect personal information or sustain tracking beyond users expectations (Flash cookies), not surprisingly, are not viewed so favourably.

The big lesson here? Do not embark on any online marketing campaign without sound professional advice. The risks are simply too high, not only legally, but also to your brand and reputation. Make sure you consult someone fully experienced in digital privacy law.

Meanwhile, here are eight best practices to help online marketing pay off:

      1. 1.

Learn to earn

      1. : With privacy such a moving target, your team needs to stay on top of the latest developments. Develop trusted sources of online content you can access to keep current.
      1. 2.

Never assume

      1. : Don’t assume your plan is problem free. Netflix, the online movie company, ran into a U.S. federal investigation and lawsuit after releasing user information supposedly stripped of personal data in a contest to improve its online rating system. Two thumbs down.
      1. 3.


      1. : Do you have it? How? Err on the side of caution. Use very clear language on how and what people are agreeing to, as well as what, if any, information you intend to track. The mechanics vary, from pop ups to opt-ins and opt-outs (Some choose to use a confirmed consent, where it must be reconfirmed through an additional action; Click a link or reply by text). The goal should be the same: To be transparent and easy to understand.
      1. 4.


      1. : Avoid it. Voluntarily. The laws are tough and getting tougher. Why bother, really? Avoid blasting—the chances that you will become “blocklisted” are high and the chances you will annoy people are even high and the potential for big money fines are just on the horizon.
      1. 5.


      1. : Be clear on what cookies are being set and what you are using them for. How will the cookies benefit your customer? Do you intend to share tracked data? How? And what steps can users take to manage their cookies? Tell them.
      1. 6.


      1. : Play by the rules, and be ready to change rapidly if those rules change. Have a Plan B.
      1. 7.


      1. : Always be up front. Have a formal privacy policy in place, share it openly and use easy to understand language.
      1. 8.


    1. : Just because you’re operating within the law does not mean consumers will embrace your methods. Do a thorough risk analysis to identify possible issues before they become PR nightmares. Remember: Ethical business is good business.

With the right plan, executed well, digital marketing can boost your bottom line, providing solid returns on a reasonable investment. Be sure, though, that you know exactly what you’re getting into before you start. Good professional advice — both legal and practical — can save some big headaches down the road.

Matthew Vernhout, Director, Delivery and ISP relations for Transcontinental Interactive has over 10 years of experience in email marketing. He is a certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/C) and Director at large for CAUCE NA.