Last week in this space I offered the hope that publishers, advertisers, agencies, platforms and ad tech companies would make better choices now that the much-abused Cookie was being taken out of service. I suggested that someone should be in the room advocating for privacy and honesty. I also hope we'll reconsider who we serve and how we think about them.
Consumers? Impressions? Unique IDs? Traffic? No. Citizens.
Several years ago, an adtech and data firm asked me to moderate a panel on privacy at one of their conferences. I agreed, provided we could populate the panel with actual people - civilians who visited our websites, watched our videos, looked at our ads, bought stuff. Setting aside the fact that this was first time many in the audience had ever discussed privacy with anyone outside of our business, the insights were remarkable.
"Who said it was OK to target me?" asked a business owner from Nassau County. "What am I getting out of that deal?"
"Don't tell me the internet is free," said a teacher from Queens. "I pay money every month to get online."
"I get it and I'm OK with ads," offered an electrician from Jersey. "But don't you think you guys are overdoing it and poisoning the well?"
These were not Luddites or radical consumer activists. Just Citizens who'd been overlooked and taken for granted for one hell of a long time. They'd been treated like numbers on a spreadsheet, anonymous cogs. And they were fed up.
Something remarkable happens when we begin framing the people at the center of our world as Citizens. We start to grasp our responsibility for giving them a decent environment. We become stewards. We make fewer careless assumptions about what we can get away with and start asking what's the right thing to do.
I haven't kept in touch with the Citizens from that panel. But I would guess that they, like so many others, are spending a bunch more time on Facebook and Instagram - in spite of the fact that scores for trust and privacy on those platforms are bottoming out. They probably reason that if they're going to get jerked around they may as well get jerked around in an efficient, predictable environment.
Now we've got a chance to start again. We can win those Citizens back. As the amazing Rishad Tobaccowala writes in Restoring the Soul of Business, we can close out the age of Too Much Math, Too Little Meaning. No more carpet bombing with the same dumb ads. Less content and more facts and real information. No more careless use of data. No more thoughtlessness about the environment we steward.
That's no way to treat Citizens.