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Marketers can be on the greedy side when collecting data about consumers online.

Generally, you should collect only the information that you will actually use—information for the customer rather than merely about the customer. If someone is signing up for an email newsletter, there is no reason to ask for that person's mailing address.

Unfortunately, since marketing analytics and behavioral targeting rely on consumer behavior and demographics attributes, many marketers try to get as much information as they can from their prospects.

That consistent overstepping of boundaries can diminish consumer participation and create a lack of trust. Moreover, failing to collect data in a transparent way can erect more barriers in the way of obtaining accurate, reliable metrics.

It's no surprise that consumers are concerned about their online privacy, and many are actively trying to protect themselves by limiting the amount of personal data that can be collected. A recent comScore study found that more than 30% of US Internet users clear their cookies each month. That has led to miscalculations and overestimations of audience sizes by as high a factor as 2.5.

The major Internet service providers are responding to those fears by increasing users' privacy options. Major Web browsers now allow users to limit how much information is recorded about where they go online and what they do.

Marketers must improve the transparency of their data-collection practices if they are to help calm their customers' fears. Giving website visitors control is always the right move. You acknowledge that they have the control anyway and accept the responsibility of offering sufficiently significant value to entice the customer to exchange personal data.

The key is to make sure the level of information you ask them to share directly relates to the value the customer will receive.

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image of Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne (jsterne@targeting.com) is the founder and director of Target Marketing (www.targeting.com), founder of the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and the founding president and current chairman of the Web Analytics Association.