By Colin Jowell

With the coming census, we are finally beginning to have what appears to be the first real public debate about privacy in the digital age.

We should have been having it for quite some time because in our daily lives, we already see the impact of retargeting. And while there have been horror stories of identity theft, fraud, Facebook cloning and more, it seems like we are more obsessed with sharing our lives than protecting them. Even with some of the serious alarm bells rung about the Trans Pacific Partnership last year, ask the average person in the street about what impact that will have, and you will likely get the blankest of blank responses. Not everyone is a reader of tech blogs, which are the only real outlets that seem to care.

But now, with the online census going out, for the first time there is a real and relatively sustained examination of what it might mean for our privacy.

At the core of the issue is the fact that the ABS will be keeping name and address data for four years, which along with the intensely personal information stored, is perceived as a major risk. Nick Xenophon has warned of a potential looming “debacle” and Malcolm Turnbull has refuted that.

The case for keeping the data is to allow the census information to be far more useful and current, and therefore, provide a better guide for its essential application: the planning and services of our future. This is akin to marketers opting you in and enriching data to provide you with more personalised experiences. Consumers are seduced by the joys of more relevant offers and e-mails and a tailored playlist on Spotify. But, how happy will those same consumers be when they are scammed, frauded, cloned, or outed in places they shouldn’t be a la the Ashley Maddison adultery website scandal?

Past experience says the privacy issue rears its head from time to time, generally aligned to a crisis, and then dies back down. But it would be wrong to ignore the trend - that the frequency of crisis is slowly but steadily increasing on both a mass and individual level.

And as that happens, we need to be prepared.

  • We need to start thinking about the segments of customers who trust us enough to share their information with us, and those who don’t.
  • We need to understand what they are prepared to share, and why.
  • We need to build in failsafe measures to protect that trust as a key competitive asset and differentiator.
  • Critically, we need to learn how to move people from one camp to the other by creating customer journeys that build trust incrementally.

Marketers who master this skill will be able to lock in customers with data rich, personalised, relevant experiences. The rest will be left, spreading the net wide and wasting resources, and ultimately without any marketing plan at all.