Will Privacy Be 2015’s Killer App?

Nick Halstead
15th December 2014 0 Comments

Internet privacy has become a topic of interest to all of us. Just recently, Google lost ground in its fight against Europe’s ‘right to be forgotten’ legislation, which gives Europeans the ability to hide their history on the Internet. More than 170,000 people have sent appeals to Google, hoping to prevent part of their personal history from showing up online.

In the US, public awareness and perceptions are changing in the post-Snowden era, with Pew Research recently reporting the growing concerns of consumers for how businesses and governments process their personal data. Couple this with the growing adoption of Big Data technologies within enterprises and there is a potentially explosive cocktail that means 2015 could become the year when online privacy and trust come to a head globally.

It’s become easier than ever to know a lot about a person from integrating customer data collected directly by companies, with publicly available data, including social media data. Brands are starting to apply Big Data technologies to collect behavioral data and connect the dots between website clicks, social network data, product purchase data and third party data. The potential payoff for marketers is the nirvana of CRM, the 360 degree customer view. But in the race for consumer insights and 1:1 marketing, companies are at risk of losing their most important asset – the trust of the customer.

The Big Data Backlash Is Just Beginning
Just a week after launching a Twitter app to help people in distress, the Good Samaritans pulled the app due to citizens’ concerns over privacy. With the app, Twitter users would receive private alerts, informing them of troubling posts from people they follow in the hopes that they’d reach out to these friends and offer support.

Backlash ensued, however, with several accusing the Samaritans of increasing the vulnerability of already vulnerable people and undermining people’s trust in the organization and the social network as a place to talk about mental health issues.

If you bring it back to the U.S., consider a scenario in which a health insurance company does a ‘join’ on a person whose combined demographic and social data leads to a change in his eligibility for life insurance.

A Shift in Favor of Privacy-By-Design
As we recently saw with the fall-out from #UberGate, where Uber openly touted their ‘God View’ application that enabled employees to track the location of Uber riders. Without safeguards around data usage, data joining, access and anonymization – the unintended consequences of big data can be destructive to not just to the reputation of a single business, but potentially an entire ecosystem.

Big Data technologies have the potential to transform every business into an Ubergate, even though the promise of such insights are the stuff of dreams for many marketers today. The answer is a shift to Privacy-By-Design thinking.

What Next?
It’s not all bad news for business, however. As an industry, we have to balance the art of the possible and the desire to know your customer, with trust. One way to do this is to look at data in aggregate and anonymized form, so companies get the market-level insight they need, without compromising the identity of individuals.

Another mechanism is to implement an explicit opt-in offer to encourage consumers to share their social data with your company. These controls mean the companies can build audience-level insights without opt-in, and encourage opt-in for customers who have a 1:1 relationship with you. The payoff for taking the Privacy-by-design approach could make the difference between Privacy-Fail and Privacy-First for enterprises.

Trust is still the currency with which great businesses are built.

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