We are at a stage in our industry, in our culture, in our existence as a society, where the collection of personal consumer data – once regarded as sacred – has become a simple expectation for participating in our high tech world. As consumers increasingly turn to their ‘smart’ devices for everything from banking to boasting on social media, it seems our expectation of privacy has gone out the window right along with our land lines and “beepers”. The relinquishing of personal information in exchange for convenience has become commonplace.
I can still remember getting bent out of shape when a certain toy store would request my phone number with every purchase. And I can still hear the collective sighs of every other person in that checkout line — equally perturbed by this “invasion” of privacy. Fast forward a few years and we seem to have settled into some sort of comfort zone/dependence on technology that has made sharing our personal data ‘no big deal’.
“..we are displaying our digital footprint, right down to our exact geographical location..”
The number of channels for consuming information seems to have outpaced our better judgment for the most part, as we eagerly line up to swap, consume and access all sorts of information from the latest device. Hell, the very devices themselves are a unique and important data set; all competing to deliver more bells and whistles to the consumer eye, in a package that creates a sleek and easy user experience while collecting data. That little daisy chain is mind blowing!
Generally speaking, we provide a good deal of personally identifiable information (PII) with great frequency and very little thought. We’re not just begrudgingly handing over our phone numbers anymore; we are displaying our digital footprint, right down to our exact geographical location, in real-time, at any given moment – quite freely. And for what – a dollar off our favorite overpriced coffee drink? To learn which Disney princess we really are? What city best suits our quirky/conservative/fun-loving personality? Or to answer that burning question that everyone must know… What Color is our Aura? (I got yellow by the way – so I’m super chill)
“..you give us your details, we’ll show you funny cats …”
The point is, somewhere along the line we’ve established an understanding: There is a ‘cost’ to play on this great wide playground, an “even-exchange” if you will; you give us your details, we’ll show you funny cats. Done Deal! Clearly, the tide of our culture shifting from one that values privacy to one that regularly over-shares, has changed the way companies do business. Data has always been King but now consumers are lining up to merrily join the masses in the Kingdom.
With Great Data Comes Great Responsibility
Find any person on the street with their gaze and fingers fixed to their iPhone – furiously texting, browsing, checking scores and stock portfolios simultaneously (this won’t be difficult – it’s practically everyone). Ask them if they feel secure about transmitting all that data: data about themselves, their habits, personal information like logins and passwords. They will likely shrug their shoulders and say “sure”. Then ask who they think is in charge of securing this information. You’ll probably get the same shrug … followed by a look of panic.
When you consider the sheer volume of personal data that consumers hand over each day, without as much as a shrug, it is astonishing. It’s also a bit frightening. The Big Data landscape is rife with risk. Massive data breaches and the prevalence of black hat activity have become paradigms of the risky climate of Big Data. Consumers have a greater awareness of the risk, but continue to provide increasing amounts of personal info without batting an eye;
it’s a head-scratcher.
Regardless of how easily consumers hand over personal information – there is still an expectation that the data be treated securely; a sort of blind faith and trust that the data they provide is being protected. Protected by whom? Who knows! Well folks – That leaves us. We are the gatekeepers.
We are the gatekeepers
It is more important than ever, that as an industry, we treat the data entrusted to us with the respect that it deserves. Treat it as though it, alone is your livelihood. And don’t forget that for many of us, it is.
Being entrusted with securing the amount of data that comes through our virtual doors each day is a huge responsibility. But most importantly, the sustainability and vitality of our industry relies heavily on HOW we handle the security of this data. I have always been a huge proponent of self-regulation; establishing and following best practices. But the unfortunate truth of the matter is that often, when there is not imposed regulation (or hall monitor), a few bad apples will spoil the bunch. “Self-regulation” suddenly translates into a free- for-all! “Best practices” that ensure ethical and efficient business methods, are dismissed as genuine guidelines, and interpreted as really more of a suggestion. It is exactly that type of behavior that has left a big black stain on the Performance Marketing Industry. I think it’s time we all speak up and say No More.
This is the opening to what will be a series of articles and discussions on the topic of Big Data and the massively overlooked role that each of us play in the health and sustainability of an Industry that relies almost solely on data. We hope to open up the discussion, create dialogue amongst our community and truly work as a collective to see change in our industry before self-regulation is no longer an option. Please join us and stay tuned for the next piece in our series.