We all know that personal data is proliferating at a rate of knots. We are all throwing off data just by going about our normal lives, often without even realising it. It used to be the case that you had a reasonable idea who held personal data on you. Not anymore.
I looked on my mobile phone settings the other day (interesting chap that I am). The operating system informs me that I have agreed to share all of my personal information including phone calls and location. I strongly suspect that every time I click “Agree” (admit it, you all just click it, too) when the PC says I have an update or a license agreement presented to me on screen, one of the many things I have agreed to is all of my personal information being shared.
I’ve never read a license agreement, obviously. I doubt anyone has. I accept, like most people, that this is part of life today. What I am really interested in is what happens now as a result of all of this data being available to companies.
This is the world of “Big Data”. Lots and lots of information never used before. Web searches, phone location data, online behaviour, personal preferences and more. In theory, a huge opportunity for marketers to understand exactly what people might want, where and when. It could - and should - change marketing forever.
I met some very excited analysts recently who now see their chance to analyse so much personal data that we can deliver marketing messages via the right medium, at the right time in the right place, based on past behaviour and predicting future behaviour. True direct marketing and it’s all possible right now.
Hold on a minute, though. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should, does it? If I wear my analyst’s hat, this is great on the face of it. And yet I’m nervous - what do people currently feel about the usage of their personal data ? No-one is quite sure. We have on the one hand the European Commission saying data privacy is a basic human right, and yet Facebook and other social networks have over a billion people publicly broadcasting their personal data every day. It’s slightly confusing and schizophrenic.
We need to be very cautious before we use this data of what the reaction might be, not just by the public, but by the law-makers. I think it would be fair to say that the collection of much of this data, while well within the letter of the law, has some sleight of hand being applied to it. This is probably not a good thing.
There hasn’t been an example yet of large scale reaction against personal data being used in marketing. Certainly there is an outcry when personal data gets lost, notably when the child benefits data went missing in 2007. But what I mean here is what happens when there is a mass realisation that the omnipresent Big Brother envisioned by George Orwell in 1984 - what people are doing, when and where - is no longer just a popular novel, but has finally arrived?
Do we need an open and honest public debate now, before we start using this data? I think so. Far better that we find out what the media and public feel so that we can react accordingly and present our arguments in a compelling and persuasive fashion. If we don’t, we may find ourselves legislated out of a fantastic opportunity.