Yesterday, PBS Mediashift’s Dorian Benkoil addressed the growing concern about how privacy can be retained while an increasing number of advertising and marketing efforts are based off of browser data. Some have expressed concern about this data being used maliciously, and many consumers try to block them from the websites they visit. When speaking with consumers about the risks and rewards of these pieces of code, their usual response is a vague hope that disabling cookies would stop online advertisements from displaying. In reality, a lack of cookies would just mean that the advertisements would not be tailored to them.

I like to think of cookies – when done right – as an iteration on loyalty cards. They help websites present to you what you’re interested in so you don’t waste time wading through products you won’t like, and they save you some steps at sign-in. In exchange, websites are able to make a bit more profit, because they’re better at showing you what you want – and what you’re more likely to purchase – sooner. They’re only dangerous when abused by publishers, or sold to advertisers who misuse them, exhausting consumers with repetitive material.

There are two sides to the cookie though. On the one hand, there’s the ever growing demand for personalized experiences in the ecommerce space. Personalization is not possible, by definition, without collecting information about each website visitor. We here at Sailthru have been taking deep dives into the behavior of modern customers, and we’ve found that all signs point to 2015 being the year that the “exchange rate” of a better experience for customer data changes, as customers become more educated on the value of the data they give marketers, and the abilities that they then have to create a truly amazing, individualized experience. An inferior experience will soon drive customers away almost immediately, as it will indicate to them a lack of modernity, care and thoughtfulness to their needs.

On the other hand is the growing concern for online privacy and safety. As an increasing amount of our life is run online, from banking to medical records to tax forms, there is justifiable anxiety around what is done with personal data, where it’s stored, for how long and who is able to see or share it. This is where the exchange rate requires a delicate dance in order for privacy and security to be maintained, and extreme care must be used when handling customer information. In order to provide personalization, data must be collected; however, that data must be protected to ensure that a brand’s customers do not regret visiting a site and engaging with the brand.  And protection means taking into consideration the data being tracked and taking the appropriate measures, not just complying with law.

This balancing act is the reason that Marigold Engage by Sailthru, pleased to be a national sponsor of the upcoming Data Privacy and Protection Day Town Hall meetings hosted by our good friends at the Online Trust Alliance. At the event in New York City (there are two others in Washington DC and San Francisco), I’ll be addressing how businesses can be stewards of change when it comes to online privacy and data protection as well as best practices to navigate the legalities and nuances of data collection today. As this conversation evolves from an ethical to a regulated one, best practices will need to be shared at an even faster pace – please join the data privacy and protection with Online Trust Alliance to get involved in the discussion on everything from corporate privacy policies to social sharing.

You can register here.

–Caroline McCaffery, General Counsel at Sailthru