Over the last century we have watched marketing seamlessly glide from mass-media through social-media and ever more so in to an incredibly intimate-media. As a result the biggest topic in the advertising industry right now is the ever-changing definition of privacy; after all, who does own all that data?

As we head into an era of targeted advertising – delivering the right message at the right time – we shift from tracking impressions to that of individuals. Beyond online behaviours, sensor-based Near Field Communications (NFC) are about to offer complete transparency into consumer life cycles through the collation of data on habits both in and out of the home. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) will inevitably become the next-generation cookie for trans-media advertising, triggering relevant ads across any screen you are in front of. Ad targeting will eventually deliver maximum efficiency by reducing wastage across all media disciplines. In such a utopia, we can expect to touch the socio-political nerves of the masses that are split in viewing technology as something that could make lives’ easier and the treat of Big-Brother.

Consider the open sharing of personal data through social media against the proportionate rise in home-shredder sales for fear of ID theft. Add to this that it wasn’t so long ago people were tricked with pop-up ‘system’ error messages to try and get them to click. One realises that if consumer reaction rightly caused publisher lock-down then, it’s no wonder that the fear of sneaky, underhand techniques or invasion of privacy suggests political lockdown now. This is why the EU directive is far wider reaching then ‘banning the cookie’ in May 2011; it actually addresses Behavioural Advertising, Social Media and NFC/RFID.

The answer for widespread acceptance has got to be that of seen in a value proposition that is currently overshadowed through assumption; that ‘my’ data is there to be enjoyed and used by everyone. Advertising technology companies must become transparent in their dealing with the end-consumer and move beyond new initiatives to highlight when someone is being tracked, to move into an open discussion to empower individuals to make choices similar to shopping on the high street. Walk into a store and pick-up something and a well-meaning assistant will ask, ‘can I help?’ The more information I am prepared to give away in dialogue, the greater the assistant’s ability to help me make an informed purchase decision. However, I could equally turn and say, ‘no it is OK. I am just browsing.’ The art is in knowing that this decision could be altered in the next store I visit. ‘Just browsing’ could be for that day, or that shop – not for all time.

Display advertising needs to offer the same assistance akin to how we have come to see search. Partly the need is to see many more first-party cookie-strategies working much more long-term with the consumers against their preferences, providing there is a way for them to work at a granular level. Similarly a real-time decision engine needs to go beyond the ability to opt-out for good but to related to each and every exposure whist rewarding consumers to share their likes – or dislikes – of any given ad or brand.

At the heart of all of this is a matter of trust. Not only consumer trust in the technology being there for their benefit, but equally a matter of advertisers having confidence in their partner companies not to use that data as a commercial commodity against them. Neutrality is absolutely crucial to be embedded within infrastructure, where data may be seen, investigated and utilised to enhance the dialogue between a brand and their consumers, but never seen as ‘owned’. The consumer always must be in control and have that right to choose help or not irrespective of media channel.

But in order for this to become a reality now to preserve the utopia of our future, ultimately brands, agencies and publishers are going to have to start thinking less about owning data, and more about gaining trust with and rewarding those who are prepared to share it.