Ransomware attacks, data breaches and data misuse scandals are becoming progressively commonplace. Naturally, consumers are increasingly anxious about their privacy. At the same time business is shifting online rapidly, and consumers’ sharing of data continues to grow, despite their ambivalence.
Facebook is a high-profile case in point. The social media giant came under the spotlight for consumers, privacy advocates and legislators when reports brought to light that UK research firm Cambridge Analytica had obtained and profiled 87 million Facebook users before the 2016 US election. This data, it was argued, was then used to target voters with messaging to influence voting in both Trump’s election campaign and the Brexit referendum. Yet the number of Facebook users continues to grow.
The amount of data brands hold about us grows daily. Chatbots and voice assistant tools are becoming ubiquitous. More than 2 billion people use Facebook Messenger, Google Assistant and Amazon Echo, allowing brands to communicate directly with them and serve them personalised content and offerings. Technically, the data each user provides to these chatbots can easily be combined with their search and browsing history, email information, media consumption, geolocation data, in-home security, and even facial recognition. This data can then be analysed to predict a user’s personality, behaviour, tastes and interests.
Overwhelmed with technology and data collection they can’t control, some people try to reclaim their online agency by deleting certain apps, opting out of social media or even banning usage of all Google products and services (easier said than done). But as our value data apathy shows, many others have checked out, admitting defeat.
So how can brands leverage data to deliver a personal experience, and maintain trust? The paradox remains. People, perhaps rightly, are wary of sharing data with organisations which may not use their data ‘in the right way’, but will happily share their innermost thoughts on Facebook, allow cookies for sites without blinking (and without reading the T&Cs) and have enough personal data available to allow one-click purchasing and next-day delivery. This is the trade-off. If the data sharing is deemed to be necessary – and not excessive – consumers will continue to share their data and digital businesses will continue to thrive. But if data anxiety continues to grow, the digital economy could slow.
However, there is an opportunity for brands here too. The data collected, if done so legitimately and transparently, can be used to create a more intimate relationship with their customers. By giving consumers more agency and being transparent about what data is being kept and why, brands can minimise data anxiety and increase trust, encouraging a personalised, loyal and profitable relationship for both parties. The golden rule: authenticity is king.
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