I recently posted a blog about how poor digital marketing practice risks damaging our industry.  With new legislation coming down the pipe, and both Apple and Microsoft recently facing down the US Government over data access, data privacy and protection is certainly a hot topic.

At a recent, excellent, TMW Influence session, the panel explored the marketing challenge of Privacy vs. Personalisation, and some of the contradictions and confusions affecting both marketers and consumers.

In 2012, research by the Future Foundation identified three data sharing archetypes;

  • Pragmatists (53%) – willingness to share data depends on situation
  • Fundamentalists (31%) – won’t share data at all
  • Unconcerned (16%) – not bothered either way.

By 2015, the number of Pragmatists hadn’t really changed (54%), but the number of Fundamentalists had dropped to 24% and the number of Unconcerneds had increased to 22%.  In other words, half the population are quite cautious, and the rest are split fairly equally between ‘all or nothing’…

It’s alarming that so many people claim they’re not bothered who has their data – or what they do with it – and that this number is growing.  Are we getting a bit too trusting? Or is this just the inevitable consequence of living our lives online?

Consumers need to wise up

Certainly, many throw caution to the wind when it comes to Social Media.  Alongside the endless pictures of people’s children, dinners, holidays and locations/interiors of their houses (especially handy for burglars, to let them know when you’re away and how big your telly is), people are falling for clickbait links and quizzes that scrape data and preferences, or demand all sorts of access that you’d never knowingly agree to if you had the energy to wade through (and understand) all the Ts & Cs.

Last year, a Facebook app offered to create a Wordcloud of a user’s most used FB words.  Amazingly, it was taken up by around 16m people in just a few days.  But in signing up, the user unwittingly gave an unknown Korean company (Vonvon.me) permission to access;

  • Name, profile picture, age, sex, birthday and any other public info
  • Their entire friend list
  • Everything they’d ever posted on their timeline, or liked
  • All their photos and photos they were tagged in
  • Education history, hometown and current city
  • IP address and info about the device they were using including browser and language

Furthermore, their ‘privacy policy’ essentially gave them permission to store all this data wherever they liked and do whatever they wanted with it.  FOR EVER.  (Vonvon later denied much of this, but their policy was fairly clear when picked apart).

With a recent global survey finding that 27% of people would be willing to pay Facebook $3 a month to protect their data, maybe the days of free access to a platform or service in exchange for data sharing are coming to an end.  Are people now starting to realise the value of what they’ve been giving away for free?

So who can we trust?

By contrast, the same survey found that many brands were overestimating consumer trust and willingness to adopt predictive (data-based) technologies.  It found 71% believe brands are using their data unethically, and 58% haven’t used a service because of privacy concerns.

It also found that just a quarter trust the Government not to sell their electoral roll data without their consent.  That might be the least of their worries.  The Draft Investigatory Powers Bill (or Snooper’s Charter as it’s been dubbed) quietly passed through parliament with barely a media mention in mid-June, in the midst of Referendum fever.  If you’re not sure what this entitles the Government to do, it

“…requires internet service providers and mobile phone companies to maintain records of each user’s internet browsing activity (including social media), email correspondence, voice calls, internet gaming, and mobile phone messaging services and store the records for 12 months.”

If those data personas are right, over three quarters of the population must be very concerned about this.  Even the Unconcerneds might think twice about it.

Human rights campaign group Liberty lobbied hard against this.  Check out their campaign film, which cleverly brings the issue to life.

The number of high profile data hacks is another reason for greater caution.  Almost every major bank and mobile network has either been hacked or suffered some form of ‘serious data breach’.  And now criminals can cleverly aggregate data from multiple, global sources.

Such a tactic was thought to be behind the theft of almost $13m from Japanese ATMs in May.  In just 2 hours, 100 people using 1,600 fake South African bankcards took the maximum amount of $900 from 14,000 ATMs.  It could almost be the plot of the next Ocean’s Eleven movie.

What does this all mean for brands?

The light on the horizon is the incoming EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which – if Brexit hasn’t scuppered it – is being phased in over the next two years.  Its “primary objective is to give citizens back the control of their personal data.”

There’s a lot of work to do to get ready for this.  Brands who don’t comply can be fined up to €20m, or 4% of their turnover, whichever is higher.

Until then, all of this paints a confusing picture for both consumers and brands. The introduction of GDPR should increase consumer confidence, but in the meantime, the old marketing standards must apply – brands must build relationships based on transparency and relevance.

Marketers must get back to basics.  Any truly customer-centric brand must ensure programmatic data is used in conjunction with a proper understanding of their customer’s relationship with them.  Otherwise it’s all just tactics, not strategy.

And the need for brand honesty has never been higher.

So let’s not wait to be legislated into making these changes.  Brands have a responsibility to use their customer’s data responsibly and effectively.  No more spam, no more ignoring permissions or preferences and endless, illegible Ts & Cs.  And certainly no more opt-in choices that read “we may share your details with companies who we think may be of interest…”.  Savvy consumers are beginning to realise that what this really means is, “we’d like to profit from something that doesn’t really belong to us”.

After all, if we want more of those Data Fundamentalists to change their attitude, they need to trust us.  If they don’t, we can be sure their numbers will start increasing again pretty quickly.

* A big thanks to Anna Foster at TMW for providing some of this content.