How to Respect User Privacy Intentions While Still Gaining Insight from Human Data

23rd February 2015 0 Comments

On some level, we all choose to share our information with others. Whether it is providing our address to a vendor in order to receive a shipment of goods, or signing up for an electronic newsletter to stay abreast of a particular company’s newest offerings, we all understand there is an economy of information out there.

The emergence of Big Data and Human Data, however, have catapulted to the forefront of many peoples’ minds the balance between protecting the lion’s share of their personal data while still receiving the benefits of targeted marketing intelligence that provides what they want when they want it.

Here are some tips on striking that balance in your organization.

Emphasize with consumers how your data mining and marketing programs can benefit your customers.

In other words, explain what your customers will get out of your program. This helps allay fears of intrusion of privacy because customers get a chance to understand that there is a benefit to them for allowing themselves to be tracked and monitored, even in a minor way, and what they will receive from making that tradeoff, in an informed way, is a defined set of value added interactions that will improve their experience with your company. Also, understand how your customers perceive your company. Are they likely to find valuable the benefits they get from being part of this Big Human Data tracking program? Do you offer an ecosystem of products and services that can be improved by knowing deeper insights about your customers? Are your customers aware of how these insights can further their experience with your offerings? Communicate clearly with your customers so that they have the correct expectations of what you are doing with their data—either data they turn over to you directly, or data you retrieve from other sources with which you build profiles.

Be aware of privacy regulation and expectations in different regions and countries.
Companies based in the United States—especially startups that lack or cannot yet afford a full time staff dealing with compliance issues—may not be immediately aware of the differing expectations of privacy that our counterparts in the European Union have. This is reflected even in current events, with the Right to be Forgotten cemented into law just a few weeks ago and now Google having been driven out of Spain for the time being. There is a tremendous resistance in the EU and, frankly, elsewhere to storing big quantities of personally identifiable information and searching through that trove regularly, much more so than there is within the United States. Prudence requires being aware of these cultural norms and tailoring the action and the application of your marketing insights to the type of data you can freely collect without backlash. From a Human Data perspective, this could include imposing voluntary limits on aggregating various social profiles, and a program that carefully and respectfully links the contents of your existing data warehouse with that social data. Put simply, try not to be a bull in a china shop. Understand where you operate and what is the default expectation others have of your company.

Collect and consume data based on four main groups, and understand the happy medium of return on your marketing investment vis a vis consumer expectations.
According to an article on, logistics firm Pitney Bowes divides the personal data it collects from consumers into four main groupings or classifications: transactional data, physical data, secure data, and intimate data. Transactional data refers to information collected in order to fulfill orders, sign customers up for opt-in based newsletters, participate in social media interactions with the company, and in general process the daily ins and outs of running their business. Physical data refers to information about a person’s attributes, like their weight, height, address or phone numbers—in other words, a step above the simple transactional data we just discussed. Next there is secure data, which could include details about salary, house price, debit or credit card details, a cell phone on a pay per use basis (as opposed to a home phone that can receive calls all the time at basically no charge to the consumer), or any other information that could have a financial impact on the person in question. Finally, there is intimate data, such as sexual orientation, religion or faith or spiritual beliefs, or other very personal, sensitive data that the vast majority of people. The CIO article quotes Dan Kohn, vice president of corporate marketing at Pitney Bowes, as follows: “To attain maximum return on investment in multi-channel communications, it is critical, he says, to establish a barometer of consumer willingness, and unwillingness, to share personal information.”

Share This