Why Big Data means big responsibility
Why Big Data means big responsibility

Unquestionably, big data has evolved significantly over the past five years - to the point where it is now synonymous with the way businesses think and approach their marketing, irrespective of the industry they work in.

The wealth of data available to organisations is nothing short of extraordinary and is providing marketers with the ability to gain richer insights into consumer interactions, their preferences and the extent to which they want to engage with a particular brand, channel or piece of content.

Whilst the potential growth for the big data industry is huge - that growth requires us to rethink and adapt our approach to data privacy. Whether we are watching a TV programme on demand, browsing our favourite website or interacting with our friends on social media, we are creating data.

Deployed and packaged the right way, captured data has the potential to give us the power to influence the types of information with which we want to surround ourselves.

Personal data is now very much a currency, which can be exchanged in return for value.

For example, if you are looking to purchase an Audi A4, surely you'd want to receive materials that are targeted and include details about vehicles matching your requirements, price point and preferences? These could include anything from specific dashboard software to heated seats, essentially anything that meets your specific needs. Car manufacturers' ability to provide you with this valuable information is built around a value exchange. If you are willing to make your data available to them, you will be rewarded with valuable information to help you, in this case, make a major purchase decision.

It also works in reverse too. If you've just purchased a new vehicle it's highly likely receiving materials of this kind are going to be incredibly annoying and unwanted, particularly when it is a better deal. If the business you are interacting with is aware of your current requirements, likes and preferences they can ensure you only receive the information which is going to add value, excite you and make your life easier. If they don't, they will view you generically, and not know that because you booked your holiday last month, you're not interested in a 10-day all-inclusive offer to Tuscany.

Marketers, data businesses, legislators and governing bodies need to be aligned in their approach and ensure the public is being properly educated and guided about how their data is being collected, why, how it can benefit them and most importantly how it is being protected. That said, the marketing services industry needs to work together to ensure that policy makers, regulators and politicians also understand the mechanics of this value exchange, to ensure there is no confusion about the role data plays in the marketing mix and the value it provides.

As Steve Wood, the ICO's head of Policy Delivery, said recently; lots of organisations are raising questions about how they can innovate to utilise the benefits of big data and still comply with law. According to the ICO's big data and data protection report, companies cannot forget their obligation to keep information secure and private, but many of these challenges can be overcome by being open about what you are doing.  In my opinion, transparency is without question important, but it's not enough.  People need to be empowered so that we can have a better control over our data by ourselves.

With individuals increasingly expressing concern about how their data is being collected, used and shared in big data-type scenarios, we clearly need to establish a greater level of clarity so that consumers appreciate what data can and is doing for them. Everyone will have their own preferences around how they want their data to be used, so we need to make sure they have the opportunity to choose their path, and do so knowing that it is not only for their benefit, but being conducted in a robust and secure manner.

Big data means big responsibility. Having global data privacy standards will achieve both better protection of data privacy for individuals, and provide clarity to businesses around what the rules are, no matter where/in which country the data is being processed.  

Contributed by Sachiko Scheuing, European Privacy Officer. Acxiom.