Skip to main content

The Privacy-Personalization Balancing Act

Originally published on Ad Age on April 30, 2020

Two accelerating trends in marketing are on a collision course. Consumers want—and deserve—more consent and control over their data identities. Yet shifts in consumer behaviors and expectations for increased personalization are causing companies to reassess their ability to leverage that data.

While often seen as at odds, privacy and personalization both matter and can co-exist.

As tensions grow due to unprecedented increases in privacy regulation at the state level, we could see even dissection of existing data practices and marketing ecosystem changes in conjunction with that regulatory growth. Those standing idly by, assuming this is business as usual, will likely be swept up in the tide. Meanwhile, the companies doing the hard work of proactively addressing privacy expectations and consent requirements—while simultaneously investing in more personalized, relevant experiences—are gaining the edge.

A compliance climate change

Navigating regulatory waters requires a new expertise skill set that a growing number of companies don’t have. While the intent is there, companies sometimes lack the regulatory know-how to operationalize this evolution. Unfortunately, this is even more common among natively digital organizations, many of which lack the required expertise to implement effective governance models that allow for secure sourcing, organizing and utilization of data streams necessary for people-based marketing.

Experienced companies create operational forcing functions that help maintain compliance without stifling innovation, positioning themselves for success. These companies will show the rest of the market the most viable path as privacy and personalization converge.

What’s old is new again?

There have been some arguments lately suggesting the best answer is in the past—going back to a world before people-based media and marketing investments were introduced. I don’t see how that serves anyone’s needs, least of all the consumers’.

Reverting to only contextual signals or dialing back on data-driven initiatives won’t deliver on the relevancy expectations of today’s consumer. But given the quickening pace of legislation around the world, if you believe as I do that the path is forward not backward, now is the time to invest in what you need to meet the market’s new requirements.

These investments should take many forms, such as formalizing evaluation and validation exercises to vet data compliance and accuracy, solving for data silos to create a unified view of consumers, building out a robust compliance team and budgeting for the technology necessary to implement these new skills.

Identity comes into focus

Organizations are focusing data investments on the pursuit of a holistic cross-channel understanding of peoples’ and households’ data identities. Spending on identity-related data has grown over 50 percent in recent years. But understanding and resolving identity requires personally identifiable information and therefore can cause heartburn for those new to directly handling this type of data.

It makes sense that most media companies and ad tech and martech providers have chosen to stay away from directly handling consumer data. But those same companies know this: Without partners that directly manage consumer data supporting them, they’d be in trouble.

The good news?: Data stewardship, along with responsible and ethical data practices, exists in the marketplace. These practices force us to lean forward, ask tough questions of our partners and providers, and bring more rigor to internal evaluations and processes along the way.

Consumers in full view

When privacy and personalization are viewed as combatants, analysts have observed a paradox where connected consumers want to be recognized while their concerns over data privacy swell. These high expectations create high stakes for marketers working to avoid getting this wrong.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TransUnion. The information contained in this blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice.  You should consult your own attorney or financial adviser regarding your particular situation.  TransUnion does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided.  The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute an endorsement by TransUnion.  TransUnion LLC and its subsidiaries and affiliates (“TransUnion”) make no endorsement, recommendation, or representation with respect to the information provided herein. For complete details of TransUnion products, visit

If you’re a consumer with questions or issues related to your personal credit report, drivers history report, disputes, fraud, identity theft, credit report freeze or credit monitoring services, please visit our Customer Support Center for assistance.

Contact Us

We're sorry, your request failed. Please try again in a little while.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.