Throughout the world businesses are eagerly capitalizing on the promise and potential of big data. Combined with powerful analytics big data is proving to drive revenue, reach new markets and identify new consumers. Data scientists are uncovering subtle patterns, correlations and relationships between consumers and products. Through targeted marketing and appending data from data brokers, consumers are realizing compelling content, personalized online experiences and promotional offers tailored to their needs and aspirations. This appears a win-win for business and the consumer, or is it?
Overlaying profiling and demographic data from retail purchase patterns and mobile devices have the promise of being reliable indicators of the future. Combined this makes the futuristic movie the ‘Minority Report” more plausible every day.
Show Me the Harm
Collectively we must have the courage to look at the long-term impact and not let history repeat itself. The development of coal mining and the use of steam power generated from coal is without doubt the central, binding narrative of the nineteenth century. The immediate benefits were realized as jobs were created and profits soared, yet the environment (and exposed workers) soon felt the full impact of industrialization in the form of air and water pollution.
Big data is this century’s coal. It is fueling economic growth and job formation, but also igniting considerable privacy and data security concerns. Rather than asking to be shown the harm, businesses need to stand up and hold the line and not be tempted by the dark side. Business leaders must move from a compliance mindset to becoming ethical stewards, taking into consideration societal expectations and the long-term value of consumer trust.
Stepping out of alignment with consumer expectations and societal norms, will generate distrust, impact brand reputation and increase the call for regulation which can limit innovation and profits.
Boundaries – Key to Preserving Trust & Innovation
We have witnessed the promise of big data tempting business to cross the legal and ethical boundaries. Recently Target (pre-data breach), identified a teenage girl who was pregnant (before her own parents knew) by tracking her retail purchases and online behavior. Much to her family’s surprise, they started to receive expecting parent newsletters and offers for baby-related products.
So where are the boundaries? Could online retailers, pharmacies and grocery chains identify at-risk consumers for heart disease or depression based on their retail and over-the-counter purchases? Could ad networks tracking of consumers online and search activities provide data to employers on their employees personal interests? How will this data be used and who might have access to it? Insurance companies, prospective employers, mortgage lenders?
Trust Today Creates Opportunities for Tomorrow
As responsible marketers we need to look at the long-term impact and risk of abuse in order to preserve consumer trust. While trade organizations have been reluctant to define controls and impose circuit breakers, businesses need to follow their moral compasses. The lesson is clear, they need to lead their decisions based on trust and recognize the need to establish consumer centric, data management practices.
To preserve trust we must establish policies and mechanisms to empower users to be able to control the collection and the use of their data. By adopting meaningful self-regulatory programs, we can spur innovation and reap the potential of big data. Adopting meaningful practices today, will shape a trustworthy internet, serving the mutual needs of consumers and the business community.
The race for big data is on. The question is will it drive your business and industry off a cliff or to the winners circle? Now is the time to join forces to lead, to innovate and to collaborate. Seize the opportunities of big data today and preserve consumer trust for tomorrow. More >