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Beyond third-party cookies: Community and consumer privacy in the metaverse

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As brands venture into the new digital frontier, they must build and maintain customer trust

The metaverse is no longer just a buzzword. Brands and their marketers are pouring money into determining how to capitalize on this new way to reach and interact with consumers.

In this virtual world, people use digital avatars to work, play and shop, and brands like Nike, Coca-Cola and Gucci are already venturing in.

However, when forming their metaverse strategy, brand marketers must consider the privacy implications of reaching audiences through ads as we move beyond third-party cookies into Web3.

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Consumers are not always comfortable being tracked across the sites they browse. So, the heightened level of personal information available through their interactions in the metaverse means respect for consumer privacy is even more necessary. How can brands build consumer trust as they explore a new platform?

First, brands should be intentional about transparency. A recent survey found that 84% of consumers are more likely to trust brands that prioritize the use of personal information with a privacy-safe approach. Brands need to provide easy-to-understand, clear information to users about the reasons for the “what” and “why” around personal data collection, processing and retention practices.

It’s essential that companies also follow design principles such as purpose limitation, data minimization and pseudonymization techniques and implement privacy-enhancing technologies like data clean rooms. And lastly, brands should be accountable by ensuring they can demonstrate everything they say about protecting users in their privacy policies. These should outline their methodology and include annually conducting audits to test those processes.

These privacy compliance programs should already exist around brand operation on other platforms, and these need only be adapted for the metaverse. The key is to continuously lean into industry thought leadership to collaborate on building, refining and enhancing solutions that can scale and meet the compliance needs of this new digital frontier.

The metaverse and privacy implications

Until policymakers develop specific and detailed regulations for the metaverse, brand marketers must forge their own path to maintaining consumer trust.

To do this, brands should be guided by a data ethics approach to ensure consumer-first outcomes are also privacy-first outcomes. If the initial design plan feels invasive, marketers must think again about how they can achieve business goals in a way that minimizes harm to individual privacy.

Differences in privacy laws have evolved across countries and states. This is due to different government and societal approaches in balancing rights between individuals and businesses.

For example, the EU’s GDPR identifies personal data as belonging to the individual. In comparison, California’s CCPA gives privacy rights to individuals as a consumer under a consumer protection law. As a result, it is impossible to tailor a one-size-fits-all approach.

The most promising solution to this challenge is the development and full adoption of industry-wide self-regulatory policies. The IAB Tech Lab is doing essential work toward this goal.

Strategizing for data privacy in the metaverse

Community and consent can coexist in the metaverse, and brands should prioritize this harmony in their strategies. 

Brands must take advantage of the opportunity to provide better, broader and more sophisticated brand experiences without being intrusive in this new virtual environment. They can also push for regulation and laws discouraging user privacy violations and data collection abuse to emphasize how much they value personal data privacy.

The metaverse is a community-driven space, and the first-party relationship is too often overlooked. By interacting directly with consumers, brands and publishers can return to the essence of their relationship with consumers and collect data provided directly to them.

Fiona Campbell-Webster is Chief Privacy Officer at MediaMath.

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