Alex Romanov is CEO of iSIGN Media.
Read a newspaper today and it’s clear big data and privacy concerns are major news.
Since the discovery of the NSA’s clandestine PRISM program –which collects Americans’ information from emails, searches, videos, and photos through a compulsory partnership with major companies like Verizon, Google, Facebook, and Apple — it seems as if champions of the data-driven “customer insights” argument have at least temporarily been silenced.
But big data fears are nothing new, and countries continue to evolve their laws and precedents concerning privacy breaches. In 1928 the U.S. Supreme Court, in its landmark case Olmstead v. United States, held that wiretapping a private phone conversation did not violate an individual’s privacy. Thirty-nine years later, however, that decision was reversed in a new case whose ruling concluded, in part, that electronic eavesdropping is an intrusion, as “real” as physical bombardment.
Fast-forward to 2013 and the concern over consumers’ reasonable right to privacy is where the debate now centers. In a post-PRISM world, on the brink of the Google Glass era, consumers of all nations are rightly asking, “If ‘big government’ can use and abuse big data to such an extent, what’s preventing big business from doing the same?” As with a court decision, mobile marketers with access to more data now than ever, must employ a delicate balancing act. They must weigh the value of data collected against the value of not collecting it, as well as collecting data in privacy-respecting ways — initiatives that collect some data, but not all.
Big data makes behavioral deductions without personal details
The reality is this: whenever customers engage with brands through their mobile devices, they generate data that those brands can use to assemble a detailed picture of each customer’s wants and needs. This data is much more than just a jumble of binary code. It represents a wealth of opportunities for marketers to connect powerfully with customers by serving up relevant offers, making a sale that much more likely.
While 60 percent of marketers recently surveyed by the Direct Marketing Association and Neolane said that are not yet fully prepared to deal with the challenges of big data, most are now aware of its potential and know they must find a way to harness it.
As big data grows, so do its possibilities. And, yes, marketers can definitely make the most of those possibilities, all without breaching their customers’ data-privacy boundaries. It starts with getting customers’ permission to interact with them on mobile in the first place.
If, for example, a clothing store with a loyalty program app develops a location-aware marketing initiative meant to attract shoppers who come within a certain distance of a store or venue, it is imperative that they get customers’ permission to send an offer first.
And if those customers say “no,” show them some courtesy by leaving them alone.
Honoring opt-outs lets customers know that the brand is listening to them and that they respect their desire for a certain level of privacy. And, these customers are likely to think better of the brand and eventually may become more comfortable receiving mobile offers from them.
Getting the customer data privacy question right is about striking a balance and knowing where the boundaries lie. Respect for those limits makes it more likely that a brand’s customers will trust them and reward them with long-lasting loyalty.
Right to privacy in a digital age
For as long as Internet access through home computers has been a mass-market service, consumers have worried about whether or not their personal information is safe.
A recent study by The Economist found that 75 percent of consumers worldwide think regulations preventing the misuse of their personal information are “weak.” A whopping 90 percent say they worry about their data being hacked and used to steal their money.
Even so, the data deluge pours in like a snowmelt-swollen stream through billions of desktop computers, smartphones, feature phones, tablets, kiosks, digital signs, point of sale systems, ATMs, “smart” TVs, and other channels. It keeps IT departments around the globe inundated, forcing them to increase their systems’ storage and processing capacity. And, mitigating privacy concerns that come with the data flood is likely to keep those same IT professionals occupied for decades to come.
While managing the data onslaught, marketers would be wise to remember the maxim that sometimes data that isn’t collected is just as valuable as the data that is. And taking the time to ask customers’ permission to gather non-personal data might go a long way in improving ROI – even if that improvement comes in intangible and initially hard-to-measure ways.
In his dissenting 1928 opinion for Olmstead v. United States, US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis recognized a right to privacy as “the right most valued by civilized men.”
Eighty-five years later, let’s hope this simple message resonates with today’s data-hungry mobile marketers. Because their customers are depending on it.