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April 28, 2017

Respect the Data

By: Kathy Anton – SVP of Marketing, Marketsmith – parent company of i.Predictus

As businesses have been harnessing the power of Big Data to market more effectively, consumers have benefited from Big Data as well – perhaps without even knowing it. Today, people are generating thousands upon thousands of data points daily. This information helps marketers better serve their customers by targeting them with relevant messages, facilitating mobile purchases, and providing information at their fingertips to help their shopping decisions, from where to find the right shoes to where to eat tonight.

With the growth of the IoT and the product innovations that come with it – smart cars, appliances, homes, and wearables that do everything from call us an ambulance to shutting off lights while we are away to alerting our doctors when we have a health issue – consumers have been spending more time marveling over the sci-fi future becoming a reality, and not necessarily thinking about how these relatively new inventions are tapping into their personal data.

But lately, cyber vulnerability has been brought to a higher level of consciousness. Alexa and Google Home make life easier, but are they listening in on conversations? Where does privacy end, with Echo Look offering a camera built into your bedroom mirror so you can take fashion selfies? And now, it may finally be time for consumers – and responsible marketers – to take a closer look at the issues of privacy and reputation that come with the threat of more and more sophisticated hackers attacking corporate systems.

There’s no doubt that consumers are already concerned about their personal identities being stolen – and rightly so, with breaches at Target, Home Depot, Citi, JP Morgan Chase, AOL and Yahoo, to name a few.   But the behavioral data that helps marketers serve their customers – information on where they go, who they are communicating with, what they buy, where they buy it, what they eat, what they watch, how much they exercise, what they read, what they write – can all transform the use of data to the exploitation of data. Here are some examples.

Loss of Privacy

Although in theory, marketing data is supposed to be anonymous, in some cases, bad data or bad quality control can “out” individuals. Big Data analytics can be used to send you materials on, say, a serious illness or a pregnancy, or even your initial coming out that you may not have yet divulged to others.


Predictive analytics can now be used to determine all kinds of information about individuals that can lead to discriminatory practices – such as whether you are fit for a job, how insurable you are, if you are the right “type” for that co-op community, etc. While discrimination is illegal across a broad range of categories, the automation of data can make it much more difficult to detect.

Big Brother

There are several government agencies that are exempt from cyber privacy guidelines. The FBI collects PII’s (Personally Identifiable Information such as your name, address, SSN, race, DOB, etc.) – but there is no watchdog, particularly since the Patriot Act, to protect individuals from this intrusion on their personal profiles. If you’ve ever gotten a bad credit score due to a mistake made by your bank or a store, you know how frustrating it can be. But you cannot change what government agencies collect about you, or correct it, the way you can appeal to a credit rating agency.

Selling Your Data

Companies have been selling direct mail lists for years. But now they can sell your data – which, because of the explosion in the use of social media and the algorithms that are used to market to you – is not necessarily protected under the law.

Respect the Data

Consumers need to take responsibility to decide where they share their information. Many are learning this as they get more involved with social media – like changing their passwords regularly after an account hack. But this also means that marketers need to assume the responsibility for the integrity of their data, and how its misuse can lead to mistrust. Just as Target and Home Depot are grappling with the erosion of trust brought on by customer class-action law suits on their data breaches – rekindling consumer skepticism when these suits are concluded – marketers need to be cognizant of the importance of the trust consumers place in them, and actively seek out vendors and operational processes to prevent potential violations of privacy.

Otherwise, the value of Big Data will mean nothing when negligent companies lose their customers by not treating their data – and thus, their lives – with respect.