Big Data

Big data wake-up call: Increased online privacy concerns require risk management

Two recent surveys reveal that consumers' concerns about online privacy are at an all-time high. Find out which risk management points your big data strategy should include to allay their fears.

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Major inflection points are sometimes hidden in the details. For instance, at first I thought it was coincidental, but there is an increase in unidentified caller IDs coming in on cell phones. This occurrence has finally escalated as one being worth talking about.

So what's worth talking about? An emerging inflection point in big data, where consumers are becoming aware of what companies can do with big data, and how it potentially impacts their privacy. Two recent surveys support this with their findings.

In January 2014, online privacy management services provider TRUSTe issued its U.S. Consumer Confidence Index. The Index revealed that: 92% of US internet users worry about their online privacy (up from 89% in January 2013 and 90% in January 2012); 55% of US internet users said they trust most businesses with their personal information online (down from 57% in January 2013 and 59% in January 2012); and 89% of consumers said they avoided doing business with companies they do not believe protect their online privacy (up from 88% in January 2012).

This prompted Ken Parnham, TRUSTe's European Managing Director, to comment, "After a barrage of media headlines about government surveillance programmes such as NSA's PRISM, it is perhaps unsurprising that consumer online trust has fallen to its lowest point yet, with only 55% of internet users prepared to trust companies with personal data online. It is a wake-up call for businesses that commercial data collection and sharing, rather than government activity, is the main driver of increased online privacy concerns....Lack of trust can starve businesses of valuable data and sales, restricting the lifeblood of the digital economy as people are less likely to click on ads, use apps, or enable location tracking on their smartphones. These findings show that success is no longer just about innovation. Companies need to take decisive action to address online privacy concerns to stay ahead of the competition, minimise risk and build online trust."

The TRUSTe survey was followed by a UK-based survey conducted by the Global Research Business Network (GRBN) that reported that 40% of respondents in the UK and 45% of respondents in the US were highly concerned about the safety of their personal data. Data that consumers considered to be personal were national insurance numbers (86% of US respondents viewed this as personal and confidential), healthcare data (74%), home address and computer MAC/IP address (49%), and geographical location data (46%). Only 27% of respondents trusted law enforcement with their personal data, followed by banks (24%) and retail (10%).

This is a wake-up call that should be considered as part of every company's big data strategy under the category of risk management. In other words, how do you use big data about people and things productively and profitably without risking a loss of trust and business patronage from consumers who are beginning to question it? Here are four points to think about.

1: Amalgamate personal data into trends information if you want (e.g., healthcare demographic trends for purposes of preventive care), but also let consumers know how you are planning to use the information and what your personal data protection policies are.

2: Reevaluate your future "push" ad marketing strategies if you are an internet retailer -- push out promotions only to those who opt to receive them.

3: Evaluate whether it makes long-term sense to share consumer information with third-party business partners (e.g., banks and credit unions routinely do this with insurance providers and others that they partner with).

4: Don't over-exploit big data resources that are available to you to where you risk intruding on consumer privacy (e.g., nonprofits currently are exempt from abiding by the national Do Not Call Registry).

Going forward, the companies that implement proactive risk management strategies for big data will be in the best position to use big data productively, and to build trust with people who might otherwise question them.

These companies also won't find themselves on the "roll call" of popular culture bands such as Big Data, an alternative band formed out of a general distrust for technology and the cloud whose song "Dangerous" made number one on SiriusXM Radio's Alt-18 countdown in March 2014. These are some of the lyrics.

How could you know? How could you know?

That those were my eyes

Peepin' through the floor, it's like they know...

How could they know, How could they know

What I been thinking?

About

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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