Your Data: Can You Regain Control?

A little over a month ago, we witnessed the ugly and scandalous side of Facebook, with the Cambridge Analytica data scandal which made news worldwide for having influenced election results using the data gathered from the users of Facebook. And how did they manage to do that? Through personality tests requesting users to allow access to their profile information, messages and more. Seemingly harmless, right? Who would’ve thought about the possibility of something like this going on in the background?

Since the scandal came to light, it has prompted a number of users to delete or deactivate their Facebook accounts for fear of their personal data being used without their knowledge. This included individuals like Elon Musk and Brian Acton, using the hashtag #deletefacebook.

We, who work in the field of digital marketing, also walk on a tightrope when it comes to the data we handle. It is an area of marketing which has grown by leaps and bounds and there is an abundance of data available at any given point in time. A person, sitting in his room with just a laptop and a considerable amount of money, has easy access to a treasure trove of information about the populace on the other side of the world. This puts huge amounts of data at risk if even one individual with criminal intentions gets his hands on all of this data.

To better understand the nuances of this issue and what could be done about it, I spoke to Rick Vattimo, vice president for digital consulting in CEI America. He says “with the exponential growth of digital interactions on social and commerce fronts and the resulting explosion of data, this issue will get more complex and it will get worse before it gets better.”

The Truth About Consent

It has been found that there are 2.5 exabytes of data being produced in the world, every day. That’s 2.5 billion gigabytes! With this much data comes responsibility. A responsibility that tech moguls today seem to be, quite frankly, reckless about. On the other hand, though, honest and open data tracking has helped businesses enhance their services and products. High precision audience targeting using geolocation data has resulted in improved customer satisfaction and loyalty towards a brand.

Today, people are much more comfortable giving away a little bit of their data in exchange for better and more satisfying customer experiences made possible by digital technology and marketing. As consumers become more tech-savvy and reap benefits from such targeted advertising and marketing, the demographic is opening up more to the plethora of options provided by digital marketing and technology.

The huge success of brands like Amazon in driving their sales through targeted marketing is a great example which goes to show that with conscientious and transparent data tracking, it is definitely possible to make the whole process better and beneficial for both brands and the customers that they track.

Key Challenges

Explaining his premise further, Vattimo says there are three major challenges when it comes to data explosion:

1. Dealing with the sheer volume of data available at hand in the world of interconnected things

2. How to manage and leverage key pieces of data to the advantage of businesses

3. How to keep data secure and ensure that personal and private data are used ethically, with the consent of the owners

Each of the challenges mentioned above would, undoubtedly, come with its own set of sub-challenges and issues to be dealt with. As taxing a task as it may be on companies, it is one of extreme importance which would prove beneficial in the long run. It is necessary to scrutinise every single aspect of each challenge to ensure that there aren't loopholes which can be taken advantage of, at any point in the future.

Exploring Solutions

Vattimo is of the opinion that the safest way to deal with the issue, at this point in time, is through well thought out legislation. Laying down rules to abide by would be a much-needed first step towards really regulating the handling of the massive amount of data at hand. As technology and solutions evolve with time and experience, we will be able to devise more convenient methods of handling data.

Here is where it should be noted that in the wake of the Facebook scandal, Apple pushed an update to its devices which notifies the user with a “privacy icon” when the company uses personal information. This is also in line with the upcoming GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation,) which is designed to harmonise data privacy across Europe. It can be expected that other nations would follow suit upon successful implementation of the GDPR.

Apple's Privacy Icon

However, even with that being said, the ease with which an individual can access data of any kind is something which can’t be ignored. As it becomes easier and more commonplace by the day for individuals and businesses to obtain a wide variety of information about people from anywhere in the world with internet connectivity, there is the chance that in the future, data might very well become a kind of currency, empowering its owners and placing power back into their hands, where it belongs.

To put it in simple terms, we use money as the medium to get what we want. Vattimo says that there is a possibility of the same becoming the case with data. It is not really difficult to think of a scenario where one bargains with a specific piece of data to get something else in return, right?

As is clear from Apple CEO Tim Cook’s comment suggesting that “some well-crafted regulation is necessary,” it is safe to assume that this would soon be taken up by other tech giants such as Google and Microsoft if they intend to keep their consumer base intact, lest should there ever be a #quitGoogle. As for data becoming a currency, that is for us to wait and find out.

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