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Can personalization as we know it survive 2018? The most praised tactic in digital marketing has contributed to a divisive, fractured conversation about the nature of privacy.

Consider that some of the most controversial tech stories have involved varying degrees of personalization: Russian propaganda bots tricked social media algorithms to influence what users saw. Uber was accused of abusing location services to sidestep law enforcement. Facebook generously offered to collect your nude photos—to prevent "revenge porn," of course. Such stories undermined trust in technologies that collect personal data.

Personalization without choices and transparency doesn't feel like personalization to the user. However, the marketing community can re-establish trust by subjecting those services and tactics to tough questions. I have created three tests that can help us keep personalization honest.

What We Need to Test

Personalization starts with good intentions. We examine or operationalize the habits, preferences, and actions of users to provide them with more useful information and services. It's a fragile exchange. Consumers trade their data for "value"—however they define that return. But what people share seems to matter less than how and why they share.

Researchers at Columbia Business School surveyed 8,000 people about privacy and found three areas of overwhelming consensus:

  • First, 75% of respondents said they were willing to share an assortment of personal data with brands they trust.
  • Second, 86% of respondents wanted greater control over the data companies collect.
  • And third, 85% said they want to know more about the data companies collect.

Those principles are easy to grasp but harder to practice. The gray area is dangerously wide, which is why tests—framed as questions—can help us determine when data collection and personalization risk abusing trust. Let's dig into them.

1. Can the consumer control the degree of personalization to minimize negative effects or amplify benefits?

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image of Lindsay McGettigan

Lindsay McGettigan is vice-president of digital strategy at R2integrated, a full-service marketing agency specializing in brand development, demand generation, marketing Cloud technology, content strategy, search, social media, and data management.

LinkedIn: Lindsay McGettigan

Twitter: @lindsaymcget