Tech companies are selling your privacy back to you

Security makes money. Every day companies hawk their latest privacy and security features, be it on a billboard, an internet ad or a commercial in your favorite show. Like Apple’s campaign, to set itself apart or the targeted Google cybersecurity ads on social media that I probably get because of my job. That’s good for consumer awareness on privacy, but adds new jargon and complexity to purchasing decisions.

This resurgence of privacy-focused ads has a lot to do with the popularity of data laws. That’s not to say advertising privacy is new, it dates back as far as these companies themselves, but regulation made compliance a selling point. The , the and popping up forced companies into prioritizing data privacy at the same time that consumers honed in on it, too.

Whitney Parker Mitchell, CEO and founder of Beacon Digital Marketing, told Engadget that behind the scenes, when the regulations get put in place, compliance folks get hired for buying decisions and privacy and security get a new emphasis. From there, companies make the decision to advertise or not advertise privacy and security compliance based on the target buyer in mind.

“Where you emphasize that and how much information you put forward within your marketing materials really depends on how important that is to that primary buyer,” Mitchell said. Like a cell phone that feels very personal may make security front of mind, but you may value convenience more than anything in a product like your robot vacuum.

Still, privacy and security are dense and complex, making the concepts less-than-ideal for pithy slogans. Oftentimes when marketers try to reduce it to something catchy, the important nuance gets lost or buzzwords blur reality. “The advertising campaigns can make the issue seem more simple or overly simplistic than it actually is,” Aaron Massey, technologist and senior policy analyst for advertising technologies and platforms at the Future of Privacy Forum said.

It’s similar to the market for lemons — used cars, not the fruit — Massey told Engadget. It’s easy to make a marketing claim, but it’s very hard for the buyer to confirm that it’s true because they don’t have the specialized skill set to verify it.

So, to go along with the ad campaigns, more consumer-friendly privacy awareness is cropping up on our devices. “Companies are recognizing that privacy policies are not enough to really help consumers understand what is really happening with the data,” Cobun Zweifel-Keegan, DC managing director of the International Association of Privacy Professionals said. That includes efforts like privacy check ups that direct you to update your settings with a pop up at login.

It’s been a net positive for privacy and security. More regulation and consumer education has ultimately driven these ads. Still, there are things you should look out for before taking them at face value. While every ad can’t be to the topic, subjective claims like ‘We’re the most secure’ should raise skepticism. “It’s best to look for claims that the company can clearly stand behind,” Zweifel-Keegan told Engadget, and the high-level staffing like chief privacy or security officers to back it up.

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