The Government has just published a white paper on how to protect children from pornography online. An indirect consequence of the proposals, should they be adopted, may be to provide the best indication ever of just how willing consumers are to provide an opt-in.
Given the proposal to move all data processing onto this footing, we will soon know just how much trouble lays ahead. Under the plans, ISP subscribers will need to specifically request access to adult material on the Internet. This opt-in is intended to ensure parents can screen out material they would not want their children to see by stopping it from being delivered.
Whatever your views about pornography, it has been part of the (hard) core Internet content from the start. The paradox is that this billion-pound industry apparently has no customers - just try asking anybody you know if they consume it. So it might be assumed that asking for an opt-in will stop the adult industry in its tracks. If so, then the data industry - and every company that relies on personal information - could be in real trouble. Yet pornography is something of a compulsion. Regardless of any social convention or inhibition which might be expected to deter the average person from viewing it, porn has continued to grow. Driven by an addiction, users seek it out. Opt-in might seem like an obstacle to that behaviour - that is what digital marketers think about any attempt to get permission (or registration or log-in) on regular sites after all. But it seems unlikely this will happen. For one thing, the mechanism is likely to be relatively discreet, with adults signing-up online for their continued fix. Only if they had to stand in a queue and openly ask a human in person might there be a significant drop-off in demand. (Arguably this would not happen either, since it is what consumers used to have to do in the 1970s and 80s when porn started its current growth.) For another, it is clear to anybody what they are getting into and what will happen if they do opt-in. And this is where the experiment might be less useful as a guide to data permissioning by mainstream products and services.
Transparency about how data will be used is woefully lacking in many privacy statements, especially in relation to future data use by first parties. (Both of those are required by law, of course.) Consumers have become very wary about how their data will be used and therefore shy of opting-in. To change that, brands will need to sex-up their proposition and get their users hooked, whether through great service, content, social links or anything else marketers can come up with. That’s not to say insurance providers should become porn brokers. But if both need an opt-in to trade with consumers, they are working on the same psychological drivers. For that at least, the Government’s ISP experiment will definitely provide some valuable insight.