Consumers' loss of trust could be costly

Tips on using consumer information from the office of the privacy commissioner

Online consumers are becoming more unwilling to share personal information on the internet, according to recent research. In the age of Big Data analysis and highly targeted advertising, this could have a negative impact on the internet economy, warns research firm Ovum.

Ovum’s latest Consumer Insights survey found that 68 percent of the internet population across 11 countries would select a ‘do-not-track’ feature if it was easily available.

“Unfortunately, in the gold rush that is Big Data, taking the supply of ‘little data’ – personal data – for granted seems to be an accident waiting to happen,” says Mark Little, principal analyst at Ovum. “However, consumers are being empowered with new tools and services to monitor, control, and secure their personal data as never before, and it seems they increasingly have the motivation to use them.”

The same survey showed that that only 14 percent of respondents believed that internet companies are honest about their use of consumers’ personal data.

“The quantity of information that we have available to us is staggering,” says Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff. “Sifting the gold dust from the raw material is a ‘must’, but it’s a huge challenge.”

Personal information is often the currency that the new analytics tools employ, she says.

“There is a real person behind every piece of personal information – a person who can be fundamentally affected, sometimes even seriously harmed, by what you do. That’s why privacy needs to be one of the first things you consider,” she says.

“If you get it right, it can support and drive your business. If you get it wrong, your customers may well jump ship to a competitor or feed you misinformation. Loss of privacy leads to loss of trust; and loss of trust means loss of engagement. Nobody wins.”

Privacy Commissioner's tips

Is your organisation considering using consumer information for analytics? Here are some recommendations from the office of the Privacy Commissioner:

• First, do no harm. If it feels creepy, it probably is.

• Don’t let the technology tail wag the relationship management dog. Remember there’s a person behind every bit of personal information. You’ll do better if that person is on your side.

• Stick to your stated purpose for having the information - don’t surprise your customers. If they find out you’ve been using their information for something they didn’t expect, there will be a backlash

• Working from anonymised or aggregated data looks fine, but be smart about the possibility for re-identification. It could be easier than you think, and you could cause unexpected harm

• Make sure all the key staff in a project – from the top table, to IT, to marketing, to legal – are clued up about why it’s important to manage personal information well.

• Have a privacy checklist, and use it before ‘go live’.

• Remember that people want control over their personal data, and that the law will often back that up.

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