11 years ago a guy called Max Schrems burst on to the scene (NYT article). I thought then “At last, online privacy will be taken seriously. The industry I have worked in is at a tipping point” – but, nothing really changed.
2013 – Ed Snowden became a household name. I thought: “This really is the tipping point for digital privacy. People will now understand the dangers of mass surveillance” – still nothing much changed.
2017 – Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. The first major commercial breach of personal data. I remember being completely shocked at the brazenness of what they did, and the utter disappointment at the lazy/sloppiness of #Facebook attitude to user data. “Surely now…” I thought – but not much happened.
However, public interest in the topic of privacy was definitely on the move. From then on, pretty much every data conference I attended included a session on privacy.
2018 – GDPR launched. At last, a legal framework with joined up thinking. Lots of fear, misunderstanding, arguments and more sessions at conferences discussing the state of privacy – but still, nothing much happened in terms of data collection.
2020/22 – Schrems II. Max Schrems is back. He wins his challenge to invalidate PrivacyShield (July 2020) and the follow up complaint against a website related to its use of Google Analytics in January 2022 by the Austrian data protection watchdog. Essentially against data transfers to the US, where the CLOUD Act and FISA/702 mean data collected on a non-US citizen is fair game with little respect to privacy or the European GDPR.
Now, finally at long last, I would say since that groundbreaking day in January, things in the analytics world really have started to change. Privacy has become top of mind for the majority of businesses trading in the EU and anyone that targets the world’s largest trading block. Users in general now understand the value of their data, and lessons about privacy and data harvesting are part of many a school’s curriculum.
It has taken 10+ years for the privacy snowball to grow to a size that now cannot be ignored. Things are moving fast now. I really do think it is the end of personalised tracking/profiling and the pernicious advertising that goes with it – its just a matter of time.
Just for fun, I recon we will be done with it within 3 years – replaced by contextual ads. In fact there is lots of evidence to suggest contextual ads work as good as profiling ads (1,2) – it just doesn’t sound as sexy. Good riddance to bad rubbish!