Listen to the Drip, Drip, Drip of Data Leakage

Yesterday was Data Privacy Day in America, a time for all ethical business leaders to unite in a show of goodwill and security regarding people’s Personally Identifiable Information. It’s a sensible practice, and a necessary one. Like peace on earth, love of your fellow man, and justice for all, it’s a noble ideal, though one impossible to fully achieve. Earth Day’s like that. It’s nice to see hordes of people gathering in parks to promote green lifestyles, but group sings of Big YellowTaxi haven’t done much to stem rampant population growth or turn the tide of global warming.

Data leakage is the global warming of the marketing community. Like global warming, its effects are widened and exacerbated by the advance of technology. That complexity is graphically displayed in this illustration supplied by Ghostery CEO Scott Meyer that pictures the flow of data from Sears.com.

 

“The circled areas are areas of concern,” Meyer says. “They’re outside the control of the tag manager, Signal. Signal can’t directly control them one at a time. Frequently, neither the tag manager nor the brand knows which companies are actually collecting data from the site.”

What makes data leakage nearly uncontrollable is the fact that it often occurs without the intent or even the knowledge of bona fide data partners on a site. More than 100 companies are in the business of putting code on retailers’ websites, mostly with the purpose of helping that retailer make more money. But data from an innocent cookie dropped on a visitor to the site could find its way into the hands of an unknown data broker. All the good intentions of an Internet retailer to protect the privacy of its customers can’t and won’t stop it from being shared with a party far off that retailer’s radar.

“The multidirectional arrows emanating from the blue Rubicon circle indicate that these companies are cookie-synching and data is flowing both ways,” Meyer explains. “They are using data collected on other sites to target Sears users, and they are collecting Sears data to target people on other sites.They could be taking data on Sears customers and selling it to Walmart.”

Big retailers are aware of the situation and are taking steps to address it. One of those steps is enlisting the services of companies like Ghostery, which provides e-coms with the digital equivalent of a security cam video showing them what’s going on behind the scenes in their online stores. Ghostery, which introduced a privacy tracking app for consumers six years ago, released its enterprise solution a little more than a year ago. Since then it has signed on more than 125 retail clients, including six of the top 20 retailers, according to Meyer.

The irony of the situation is that online businesses have the same privacy problems as online consumers. It’s difficult to assure one’s customers that it is keeping the data wolves away from their PII when those same wolves are robbing the retailers’ hen houses.

Happy Day After Data Privacy Day!

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