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Personalise ads but respect user's privacy

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Opt-out function is an example of how user experience and privacy can be balanced

Advertising, without taking personalisation into consideration, would be akin to shooting without a target.

Consumers who have begun browsing and purchasing on-the-go over the years have come to expect a certain degree of personalisation from the advertisements served to them.

Research proves this: Software integration vendor Talend estimated that two out of three Singaporeans want a more personalised experience when it comes to online shopping.

Over 50 per cent of respondents were found willing to provide personal information such as e-mail addresses, birth dates and clothing preferences for a personalised shopping experience.

We have now become accustomed to personalisation as a staple of marketing; think of the songs, movies and merchandise recommended by big boys Spotify, Netflix and Amazon.

The study and application of artificial intelligence has become more pervasive.

Brands are aware that consumer interest and needs can evolve over time, and data analytics can help in exposing the breadth and depth of these needs, as well as refining the relevance of the brand to each individual.

The differentiating factor lies in integrating and interpreting the data sets, and converting them into actionable insights.

Crucially, many brands have been accused of being "creepy" in their ads.

With ads now strategically placed, consumers find themselves inserted into the world of an ad without even realising it.

Every song downloaded, form filled in, credit card registered, cookie enabled, and app access privilege granted means a little less privacy.

Singaporeans, in particular, continue to value their privacy.

In a recent report by Ernst & Young, 43 per cent of Singaporeans surveyed called on the Government to adopt a more active role in monitoring online activity.

Apple, for example, has differentiated itself with its approach of collecting user data using algorithms, all without requiring a user to input private data.

To address rising safety and privacy concerns, the key is to continually work to perfect and balance user experience and user cost.

This may take time, and this may take the form of increased face-time with clients to better leverage coding tools, but user experience and user privacy need not be mutually exclusive.

The most prominent example of this is the opt-out function.

For example, every time you search for something online, your search engine gathers information about you.

This data is analysed and used to target you with advertising, as well as to fine-tune your search results.

But search engines such as Google and Bing now allow you to opt out of this and your history will not be tracked.

Additionally, user privacy can also be considered an integral part of the user experience.

Brands that use social media advertising platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter work within a framework of user ad preferences, whereby users can manage what sort of ads they want to see.

Facebook has a "Why am I seeing this?" function, which explains why users are seeing a particular ad and allows them to add or remove themselves from audiences shown that ad.

This is an example of empowering users to take steps to protect their privacy, thereby enhancing the user experience as they would no longer be served ads that have no relevance to them.

The adoption of automation, which may improve personalised user experiences, is seemingly inevitable for all brands, but this should not be at the expense of user privacy.

In fact, control given to users over their personal data should share the same upward trend.

In a world of increasing automation, the brands that are one step ahead of the rest are those that put consumers in the driver's seat, empowering them to make informed decisions, extending beyond what data they wish to share, to where, when and with whom.

The writer is the Singapore country manager of advertising intelligence and digital media solutions firm Exponential.