Interview: Sarah Branam, privacy manager, Epsilon

Armed with data collected on more than 250 million consumers and over 22 million businesses, Epsilon knows the advantages—and risks—of collecting consumer data. “Being able to collect data about consumers enables companies to send relevant offers to consumers,” says Sarah Branam, a privacy manager with the marketing services firm.

At the same time, she adds, data brokers like Epsilon and the companies that seek their services need to strike “a balance between collecting information and consumers’ privacy rights, simply because they’re so closely tied together.”

The first step, Branam advises, is ensuring data transparency. Edelman‘s recent Privacy Risk Index study reports that more than half (57%) of survey respondents believe that their company is not transparent about what it does with customer information, and 61% are slow to respond to consumer and regulator complaints about privacy. That’s “a huge brand risk,” Branam asserts. “No consumer wants to do business with a company that doesn’t take consumer privacy seriously.”

Although marketers’ information sources vary from data brokers to public records, Branam says there is a single strategy for achieving data transparency. “It all starts with consumer education. Epsilon sees educating consumers as one of the most important steps that we can take right now as more and more data is collected. It’s about the opportunity to provide consumers with notice about how data is collected and used, and to provide this information in meaningful ways.”

For instance, Epsilon teamed up with the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) to support the use of DAA’s Advertising Option icon, which lets consumers know how their data is being used and provides them with choices on how they can retain greater control over their personal information. Epsilon also uses an assurance platform from Evidon, to comply with the DAA’s Self-Regulatory Principle for Online Behavioral Advertising.

Another way to educate consumers is through a clear privacy policy. Branam recommends providing privacy policies written “in plain English” and posted on a company’s website for full disclosure of a company’s online advertising practices.

To be sure, as promotions and marketing campaigns become increasingly targeted and personalized, consumers will “understand the value of having their data collected and used,” Branam says. But, she adds, “it’s up to marketers to provide information to the consumer on how an entity is collecting and using personal information. And it’s those companies that take consumer education seriously that are really making strides in the industry.”

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