“As technology for digital signage matures and becomes more interactive and personalized with beacons and video analytics, should regulation similar to the recent GDPR and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) policies for the web be implemented for digital signage?”
Digital signage is a critical medium that has been subject to many regulations and business controls. With privacy regulations forthcoming, there will be greater challenges. Up to this point, as a country, we lack many digital privacy regulations that exist in other countries. Much of this has been great for the digital adverting ecosystem and has led to much of the growth we all enjoy. This enabled innovation, created revenues to offset innovation investments, and created economic gains for many companies.
Can this change? If you watched the Facebook trials a few years ago, you know that our congress is not ready to tackle these issues. The rate of technology change and implications of data use change by the day. Most of us (present company included) can’t appreciate all of the potential consequences. Additionally, we are quite trusting of the companies we utilize, though some are better than others in maintaining our privacy. Eventually, privacy regulations will increase. We have seen GDPR (EU) and CCPA get activated. Other U.S. states are drafting legislation, and eventually, there will be federal regulations.
For digital signage, it isn’t intuitive that user/viewer privacy would be a concern. However, as privacy regulations evolve, digital signage will be impacted. Some screens are passive in that there is no direct user interaction, while others do have the ability to interact. There are also technologies that can “observe” viewers on screens, and there are technologies that “capture” users around the screens. Many of these activities seem trivial compared to the one-to-one interaction from our personal mobile phones, laptops, TVs, and other Internet-connected devices. These are different types of issues certainly, but both have privacy implications.
On screens where there is direct user interaction or information entry, it is more intuitive that privacy controls will be enforced. If you have to enter an email, phone number, or credit card, there is direct data exchange. The provider is responsible for managing data privacy and ultimately will be responsible for managing user preferences. For screens that don’t have direct interactions, there are still indirect data elements “captured.” These could include mobile phone-based geolocation observations or visual detection-based cameras. Both of these, and other similar and emerging technologies, should allow users to be aware and choose how to interact.
Are these user controls today? – no. Will there be? – yes. This will cause changes in expectations and experiences. There may have to be disclosures provided as users interact, the ability to opt-out where direct relationships exist, or changes in business processes where automatic capture can’t occur. The latter being the most difficult as there is no direct interaction. As an example, users don’t know if cameras are in use to build anonymized age/gender determinations or facial recognition. As we now know, trust in the company can’t be the determining factor, especially with screens, because we really don’t know with which company we are interacting.
Privacy regulations will force the ecosystem to change. There will be disclosures when interacting, there will be opt-outs where appropriate, and there may be decisions to truly vet technologies used (or decisions not to use them). This will have impacts on the digital signage industry. Without some data points, ad revenues could be reduced, which could change the economics of deciding to invest in a greater number of screen deployments. User privacy settings on mobile phones could impact geolocation-based analytics, which can negatively impact sales modeling and attribution.
While these are negatives, I don’t believe this will slow down industry growth or impact the value of digital screens because the interactive experiences are compelling. However, privacy will impact all digital formats. Digital signage offers broad reach and beneficial value tied in the real world. This may actually increase the value of digital signage as it is more compelling than other digital mediums. Privacy rules will evolve and will become the norm. The impacts will be felt in all digital platforms, perhaps minimally or more pervasively. Either way, the industry will continue to evolve faster than regulations. Certainly, there will be speed bumps and large potholes, but digital signage should be able to prosper more so than other mediums.