By Ray Everett
Website privacy is at centre stage once again, as privacy infringements by major sites and apps continue to hit the headlines. Government scrutiny is sharpening and with the EU data protection and privacy regulations tightening, consumers are becoming more and more concerned about being followed online and having their data bought, sold and warehoused in various corners of the Internet.
The recent cookie regulations have focused on how companies use and manage the bits of data that get dropped into a Web user’s browser and then enable the collection of all kinds of data that is used to target the user for advertising, or for customising the site content to improve the end-user experience. For many users, tracking infringes on their privacy, and website owners have a lot at stake when it comes to this issue.
The very nature of online businesses – whether it’s attracting users, selling products or promoting brands – depend on the trust of site visitors. Unfortunately, even once this trust is established and acceptable privacy policies are put in place, perfectly legitimate and well-meaning sites can fall victim to unintentional privacy breaches due to the misuse of site visitor information, and this can be extremely damaging to their reputation. These unwanted breaches often come as a result of third party advertisers not adhering to privacy policies due to vast advertising networks that have traditionally been difficult to monitor.
With full visibility into everything that is happening on the site, a website’s owners can control not only their own content, but also understand how their third parties are using visitor data. Essentially, website owners need to be able to understand who is showing up on their site who does not comply with privacy policies, how often they’re showing up, where on the site this is happening, and how these unwanted advertisers got there in the first place. The balance needs to be struck to allow the right advertisers to ensure revenue, all while maintaining the integrity of the site and not affecting the consumer’s web experience.
The results of an in-depth and comprehensive analysis of the online behavioural tracking on 269 websites, to be publicly released by Keynote in the near future, found that 86 percent of the sites analysed included third-party tracking of site visitors and, as a consequence of these third parties, over 60 percent of those sites violated one or more of the industry’s most common tracking-related privacy standards. With the EU cookie regulations, it is made clear that those operating online services are responsible for complying and therefore companies operating online within the EU need to be more aware of their privacy standards and those of third party advertisers.
The number of websites that allow visitors to be tracked by third parties may be surprising to some, but as consumers begin to understand that their online behaviour can be recorded, website publishers will have to work even harder to ensure consumers’ privacy expectations are met. The bottom line is, website owners are responsible for the content of their website, including the practices of the advertisers appearing on it. Monitoring the constantly changing advertising ecosystem is a daunting task, but the consequence of failure is the placing of your brand’s reputation at tremendous risk.
About the author
Ray Everett is director of privacy services at Keynote. He’s been called the “dean of corporate privacy officers” by Inter@ctive Week magasine for his role in establishing one of the world’s first corporate chief privacy officer roles and helping to create the first professional certification organisation for the privacy industry. Ray has more than 15 years of consulting experience working with more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, as well as extensive experience working with start-up companies creating privacy-related products and services. He is a co-author of Internet Privacy for Dummies and Fighting Spam for Dummies, has testified before Congress, and has worked as an expert witness in several groundbreaking Internet privacy lawsuits. A native of the Washington D.C. area, Ray holds a law degree from George Washington University.
About the company
Keynote Systems is the global leader in Internet and mobile cloud monitoring. It provides companies with solutions for continuously improving the online experience. Founded in 1995, Keynote provides testing, monitoring and measurement products and services for any enterprise including online portals, e-commerce sites, B2B sites, mobile operators and mobile infrastructure providers. Keynote products and services help companies improve customer experience in four areas: Web performance, mobile quality, streaming and real user experience testing.