Finding an accessible way of talking about the weird relationship the world has with “tracking” is challenging.

However, the other day I read an article on a completely unrelated topic that analysed the argument that we are living in a dichotomous society.

On one side you have the hypersexualising of, in particular, young women. Then, on the other, you have an increased prudishness and conservativeness, principally from the right wing press.

This got me thinking.

Could this position also be levelled at the argument currently raging around privacy, tracking, net neutrality, big data, yada, yada?

Stick with me.

On one hand we have never shared more information with anonymous brands, apps and companies about ourselves, our friends and our family (location, weight, emotions, demographics, health, sleep, etc.), but then we act outraged and shocked when this data is used, lost, hacked, shared, or sold.

I’m always surprised that people are taken aback that companies use the data they share for purposes that might, to the unexposed, be seen as nefarious. I was always under the impression that it was just a given that there is a value exchange; in other words, you get Facebook, Snapchat, Google, and so on for free, because you know that everything you share, or do, on that platform will be used to target you. Correct?

Apparently not, especially when we take into consideration the reaction of the press to stories about Facebook tracking emotions, or billboards with embedded cameras, eye tracking, super cookies or indeed Bose tracking listening behaviour through their connected headphones.

Thankfully there are very clear laws that exist in most countries designed to protect consumers, but right now that are too many instances where the policy makers are too far behind the innovators to challenge their current strategies.

Don’t get me wrong – tracking consumer behaviour is a massive part of our role as digital marketers, but at Dentsu Aegis Network in New Zealand, we are very strict on what level of data we use to market clients’ products.

Perhaps unlike many, we self-police our staff with a clear policy that we don’t manage any kind of Personally Identifiable Information (PII). What we do is track behaviour, collect trends, and use that data to help predict consumer behaviour, and provide communications that are relevant and timely.

We always act well within the boundaries of the law, and furthermore good conscience, but I still think as a wider industry we have a long way to go in educating the public on how brands track, monitor and analyse user behaviour.

Yes, the European Cookie Law is a start but we have nothing like this in New Zealand, which is an issue, and let’s be honest, cookies are the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, how do we protect consumers who are tracked without their knowledge?

Did you know that Amazon tracks the speed you read books, or that Netflix monitors viewing behaviour, or that Google, through Chrome, logs your entire web browser history (within two minutes I can see that at 20:24 on 1 Jan 2012 I searched for “Japan Earthquake” and visited three times).

And, ultimately, should we be able to opt out… These questions need to be publically debated, but also in my view regulated in a way that protects the public. I was schooled under the old adage of “hope for the best, plan for the worst”, and right now we do need to plan for what companies can do with data, in a worst-case scenario.

Alex Radford

Alex Radford is the General Manager of Digital at Dentsu Aegis Network NZ. He has extensive experience in executive-level roles across digital marketing and advertising, specifically across strategy, transformation, programmatic and performance media.