Adobe Privacy Chief Rasmussen: ‘It Doesn’t Have To Be Scary’

When privacy comes up in conversation, many marketers tend to zone out—whether from fear, boredom, or both. But they shouldn’t be afraid, according to MeMe Rasmussen, chief privacy officer at Adobe, as long as they follow a few simple steps.

Adobe Privacy Chief Rasmussen: ‘It Doesn't Have To Be Scary’

When privacy comes up in conversation, many marketers tend to zone out—whether from fear, boredom, or both. But they shouldn’t be afraid, says MeMe Rasmussen, chief privacy officer at Adobe (’s parent company)—as long as they make friends with the legal team and learn the basics of privacy law.

Rasmussen and other experts will take the stage at Adobe Summit 2016, March 21-24 in Las Vegas (click here to register), for a panel discussion about how marketers can build marketing campaigns that win the consumer’s trust while protecting the brand. caught up with Rasmussen recently to get a pre-Summit look at the session and find out more about what impact privacy trends and laws have on marketing strategies. What is the biggest misconception marketers have about data privacy?

Rasmussen: The biggest misconception is that the topic of privacy is one to be feared and avoided. It’s a scary topic for marketers. They often leave it alone and hope that nobody talks about it or hope maybe the lawyers will talk about it. But it’s really a great opportunity, if done right, to engage with your consumers and develop trust.

If you don’t respect consumers’ privacy, trust for the company and for the brand goes down. The key is to state exactly what it is you are doing, how you’re collecting data, for example, and what you’re going to do with it. When you’re approaching privacy the right way, it’s actually a great way to establish trust with your consumers. Privacy doesn’t have to be as scary as people think it is. You just have to understand the issues, so you can avoid the pitfalls. What are some rooky mistakes marketers make when asking consumers for data?

Rasmussen: I think there’s a lot of focus on data these days, and data is playing a very critical role in marketing. It’s changed marketing quite a bit. But a lot of marketers are now looking at the world through their own lenses and looking at that data and how it’s going to benefit them. They don’t focus on how they’re going to use the data to benefit the consumer.

Another mistake marketers make is they don’t always understand the privacy issues. And some aren’t talking enough with their lawyers. Marketers should have at least a basic understanding of the rules—otherwise they can end up making statements that aren’t correct, by for example, targeting people based on sensitive data that should not be used for marketing purposes. That’s where you’ll have a problem not just with the regulators around the world, but most importantly with your consumers.

Marketers need to make sure that they aren’t targeting people on sensitive issues just because they have the data and the ability to.

I would recommend that every marketer take their privacy counsel out to lunch on a regular basis and get to know them really well. Having a really good relationship with your privacy counsel is very important. Also, if you bring the legal and privacy folks in early, on the campaign, everybody benefits.

I think most marketers are afraid lawyers are going to say no. But that’s not the case. We might just suggest a little tweak here and there. And we might make sure that what the marketer is saying is correct. Getting to know your legal counsel and bringing them in as early as possible in a campaign cycle is ideal to avoid privacy issues. Marketers often find themselves in a Catch-22 because, on one hand, consumers want to be recognized, they want to be rewarded for their loyalty, and they want tailored content offers. But, on the other hand, people are kind of spooked by things like data collection, data mining, predictive analytics, and personalization. So how should marketers respond?

Rasmussen: It kind of goes back to what I was saying earlier in that they have to look at things through their consumers’ lens and try to offer things of value. Everything needs to be done in a tasteful way and in a manner that’s not creepy. The companies that do this really well usually have a first-party relationship with the consumers.

Amazon is transparent with users about how it comes up with recommended items.

An example would be Amazon, which offers recommendations based on something you’ve bought in the past, or Facebook offers you a friend that you might know. Some of that is very useful and you understand where it’s coming from. It’s when marketers are collecting data on consumers in the background and come out of the blue and offer things to consumers that, one, are not valuable, and, two, where the consumer may not have a clue how the marketer could possibly know about something. I personally think that the more value you provide to the consumer, the more valuable the relationship becomes to the marketer. What’s mobile’s impact on privacy?

Rasmussen: Mobile has been great from a marketing perspective, but it can also add to the creepiness. These days, phones can give away your precise geolocation, and you can get marketing as you walk by a store, which can be a little creepy if you don’t know how you’re getting it.

Mobile has been a real challenge for privacy people because you have a little tiny screen on which to explain to consumers what’s going on. It’s hard enough to explain the privacy principle when you’ve got a big screen. But to do it on a little tiny screen is a challenge. So that’s one thing that the privacy community is grappling with.

Kids Hello Barbie is the world's first interactive Barbie doll. But who else is listening to what kids tell her? The FTC last year came out with a report that found consumers don’t trust Internet of Things security or privacy. How should marketers address privacy concerns associated with these new capabilities? What’s the conversation like among privacy folks about IoT?

Rasmussen: The answer is transparency, but the problem is that it’s hard to be transparent on a device that doesn’t have a screen. So I think marketers are going to have to fall back to the website and have very clear language on their website for what they’re doing. Hello Barbie had a great FAQ when she was released that showed what was happening behind the scenes. Another good example is Amazon Echo. If done right, these types of devices will have a very clear articulation of what’s happening somewhere on their website, which is where most people would think to go look for it.

My motto is, “Say what you do, do what you say, and don’t surprise the user.” And if you do that, you will almost always be in compliance with the laws. In order for marketers to be effective and keep their company safe from embarrassing PR problems, they must understand the privacy issues and know when to consult with counsel. Any recommendations for how marketers can stay up to date on the privacy issues most relevant to them?

**Rasmussen:**That’s a great question. I think the first place I would start is the International Association of Privacy Professionals, IAPP. They have a website with tons of resources. The FTC actually has a lot of resources on its site as well. Between those two, you will likely be able to find answers to questions. But, like I said, I go back to taking out your privacy counsel to lunch. You’re speaking at Adobe Summit. What can marketers expect to learn during your session?

Rasmussen: We’re going to have a panel discussion. One of our esteemed outside counsels, D. Reed Freeman, who has been with working with Adobe for a long time, [will join me]. He knows our business really well from a privacy perspective. Laura Berger, who is an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission in San Francisco, and Wade Sherman, who is our VP and the Associate General Counsel supporting Adobe’s Digital Marketing division, will also join me.

The four of us will be talking about the hot topics in privacy. Such as?

Rasmussen: Well, we’ll be talking about cross-device issues because that’s clearly a hot topic. We’ll also be talking about what’s going on in Europe right now because there’s a new law that passed there (PDF). We might touch on encryption a little bit and cookies because, to some degree, cookies are still a topic. Safe Harbor and its successor, the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, which deal with the transfer of personal data between Europe and the United States, has been in the news a lot lately, and we will discuss that as well as intelligent location marketing.

Adobe Summit 2016: Team Coverage

See what the Twitterverse is saying about privacy: