Search Distribution

Navigating Consumer Privacy in a Data-driven Advertising Landscape

Dustin McManus
February 7, 2024

Two thousand one hundred and sixteen (2,116).

That’s the reported number of US data breaches in the first nine months of 2023, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). No doubt that number will grow as data becomes available for all of 2023, but 2,116 already marks an all-time high for total number of data breaches in a given year.

While the number of data breaches is sharply up over last year, the number of impacted individuals is actually down significantly: 234 million people this year vs. 425 million last year.

There are certainly a number of factors playing into this decrease. The one we’ll be focusing on is the growing awareness around consumer data privacy—particularly in the search and digital advertising landscape.

What Is Consumer Data Privacy?

Consumer data privacy refers to the collection, management, use, and protection of sensitive personal information from customers by companies and other third-party data agencies.

Examples of this type of data include:

  • Contact information
  • Third-party cookies
  • Purchase history
  • Usernames and passwords
  • Website behavior
  • App engagement

Many brands and advertisers request and gather this information in droves to better target and serve consumers with relevant offerings, information, and products.

But today’s consumers are savvy. They’re more in tune with these data gathering practices and remain mindful and rightfully concerned about how, when, where, and why their personal information is being collected, stored, and used by companies. In fact, a KPMG study reveals 87% of US consumers view data privacy as a human right.

These concerns underscore the significance of responsible, ethical data usage in advertising and how imperative it is for brands to build and maintain trust with consumers that their data is being secured and their privacy isn’t being violated.

Ethical Data Usage and Consumer Trust

Consumers today remain weary about how brands are using their data. A report by BCG found that 64% percent of consumers say they don’t trust companies to protect their personal data and privacy online. 

Meanwhile, 57% believe that companies are selling their data. While the validity of that sentiment is in stark contrast with reality, these figures greatly inform the levels of trust—or lack thereof—between brands and consumers.

The more advertisers and brands can solidify trust with their customers, the more willing they are to share their personal data. This is most easily accomplished by:

  1. Being completely transparent about data collection and usage
  2. Offering clear incentives for sharing personal information
  3. Ensuring data is secured from breaches once collected

Ethical data practices and consumer incentives go a long way toward solidifying consumer trust. For instance, while only around 30% of consumers noted they’re willing to share their email address with a company for no incentive, that figure jumps to a whopping 90% when presented with a value exchange they deem fair.

Companies that prioritize data privacy can also score major kudos with consumers and a competitive advantage. This practice is known as data ethics, where values like transparency, privacy, and fairness are weighed against individual rights and societal benefits when collecting and using data.

One voluntary route advertisers can take is pursuing SOC 2 compliance. Developed by the American Institute of CPAs, SOC 2 specifies guidelines for how organizations should manage customer data.

Achieving this compliance level is a rigorous process but proves a brand’s dedication toward ethical data collection and management, fortifying consumer trust in the process. This is one of the many reasons why adMarketplace is currently pursuing SOC 2 compliance.

Data Privacy Regulations and Their Impact

As awareness and concerns around consumer data privacy have grown, multiple data privacy regulations have been enacted to offer greater protection and peace of mind to consumers around data privacy and corporate data gathering practices.

In fact, many of these regulations are shaping the current and future state of advertising practices as brands must redefine their data collection and strategies to be compliant.

One such regulation is GDPR: the General Data Protection Regulation. An EU privacy law that went into effect in 2018, GDPR applies to any company that processes the personal data of EU citizens, regardless of where that company is based. 

Similarly, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is one of the strictest privacy laws in the US. This regulation applies to any company with an annual revenue of $25 million or more that collects the personal information and data of California residents.

These regulations and others in the same vein are causing advertisers and brands to rethink their data collection practices and refine their privacy policies. Below is where they’ve had the greatest impact.

Data Collection Limitations

Many regulations place limitations on the types of data companies can collect from customers. 

Organizations must have a valid legal basis for processing personal data. Stricter data privacy and compliance structures for storing financial data have also taken effect.


Advertisers must be explicitly clear about what data they’re collecting from consumers, how they’re using it, and who they’re sharing it with. 

This is usually conveyed through a dedicated page on their website or through direct communication with customers.

Access & Deletion Requests

Both GDPR and CCPA give consumers the right to access their personal data from a company and request its deletion. 

Many advertisers adhere to this by offering consumers the ability to unsubscribe to messages or allowing them to prohibit any data collection without explicit consent.

Opt-In & Out Options

Brands must give consumers the ability to opt in or out of sharing their personal information if they don’t agree with how the brand collects, processes, and uses their data. 

This means advertisers must be more proactive than before in obtaining consent from their customers. You see this most commonly in pop-up windows or banners on websites asking you to “accept all cookies” or “manage your preferences.”

The Balance Between Privacy and Personalization

Adhering to privacy regulations is paramount for advertisers but it can hamper personalization efforts. After all, one of the primary reasons advertisers collect data from consumers is to craft more targeted, relevant, and personalized ads catered to individual needs, interests, and demographics.

There’s an attainable middle ground that informed advertisers can strike between privacy and personalization. But it can be a tricky balancing act.

For instance, BCG’s survey revealed that two-thirds of consumers want ads that are personalized to their interests. However, nearly half of them are uncomfortable with sharing the data necessary for creating those personalized ads.

Establishing trust with ethical data practices can help ease consumer discomfort around sharing their data. Still, advertisers are beholden to regulations and must navigate those in order to gather the data they need to deliver the curated ad experiences a majority of consumers want.

It’s a hurdle many brands will want to overcome. More than 90% of consumers are more encouraged to purchase a product when a brand personalizes their ads and communications to them. This presents an undeniable business opportunity and a challenge worth overcoming.

Three Privacy-forward Advertising Strategies to Adopt

Advertisers must get creative and explore alternative strategies around customizing ads for individuals while upholding privacy laws and regulations. Below are three actions brands can take to effectively strike the privacy/personalization balance.

Pivot to First-Party Data

Third-party cookies are going the way of the dinosaurs. Instead, high-quality, privacy-compliant first-party data around consumer demographics, trends, psychology, and transactions can help advertisers build more representative persona targets to craft more relevant messaging. 

The best way to obtain first-party data is through offering incentives like loyalty programs, rewards, and gamified experiences. This way, the consumer gets a clear value for their data and is more likely to willingly give it over.

Embrace AI and Machine Learning

Artificial intelligence and machine learning can help counter the diminished scalability of first-party data vs. third-party data and cookies. These technologies can recognize patterns among audiences more quickly and efficiently without needing personally identifiable information (PII).

Once those patterns are identified, AI & ML can assist with targeting and content and asset creation while providing a more conversational ad experience for consumers. Predictive targeting, for instance, can help advertisers better anticipate who is more receptive to a specific message and then deliver that ad to the right person at the most optimal time for visibility and engagement.

Prioritize Consumer Intent

Rather than solely rely on PII data, advertisers should take consumer intent into account as well. Targeting ads based on an individual’s intent and the contextual behavior around it is a powerful approach for reaching consumers at the best possible time when they’re most likely to convert and purchase.

adMarketplace prioritizes consumer intent in our media solutions to deliver the most relevant messages to consumers and create an ideal search experience. By understanding the different intent types and factoring those into ad placements, audience targeting, and messaging, we work to decode what consumers want when they want it so we can get your brand and products directly in front of them at the right time.

With these three strategies in place, advertisers can masterfully toe the line between consumer data privacy concerns and personalization while complying with regulations and keeping their brand trust intact when it comes to data collection and usage.

Learn more about how adMarketplace helps the world’s largest advertisers better understand consumer intent and maintain brand trust and safety by visiting our website.