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The Price of Privacy - BLSS Academic Blogs

OPINIONS LAST UPDATED : 11 APRIL 2018
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As Facebook faces the fallout of the investigation into the alleged data breach by Cambridge Analytica, there is little doubt data privacy is something vital to all. However, there are more than legal and ethical issues to consider; we must contemplate the role we all play and our data obligations if we are truly to understand the implications of this event.

In the first of our Academic Blogs series, marketing academic Nicola Gittins talks about the price we have to pay for our privacy.

Data has been an integral part of marketing long before behavioural targeting through online sites was even thought of. It’s easy to forget that the launch of Tesco’s loyalty card in 1994 - a whole decade before Facebook was even launched - was as much about shaping shopping experiences through data, as it was about rewarding loyalty. Consumers have been sharing data with a whole host of organisations in a variety of ways for such a long time that perhaps they have become complacent at how their data is used. Maybe it is only now with the proliferation of sites and the many digital footprints left that we are only just contemplating the price of giving away our data. There is inherent value in data and, if seen as a value exchange, there are real benefits for all.

As advertisers start to declare their intention to leave Facebook to protect or enhance their own reputations, they should consider their role in their data interactions with consumers. Brands and organisations have for so long wanted more data on us to improve the way they target and interact with us. This goes far beyond wanting to use data simply to personalise interactions, they want data to create experiences and create value.

For example, Prospan who markets a natural cough remedy Flordis, suitable for young children in Australia, used social media and search data to create a predictive algorithm that would alert concerned Australian mothers when the chance of their children getting a cold was the highest. The campaign achieved a 27% increase in sales in a category that had decreased by 8.5% during the same period.

Brands don’t just use data to sell; Carnival Cruises launched a new product to allow passengers to navigate their ship or find members of their travelling party on board. This tracking of passengers also provided an opportunity for Carnival to enhance their service. Through this tracking, passengers could order food from anywhere on the ship and have it delivered anywhere but also, crucially, they could select privacy preferences to stop their movements or preferences from being tracked. Thus, a clear value exchange was established. The benefits of sharing data were clear to users but it was equally clear that they could opt out should they prefer.

Through data growth and improved analytics, many areas of our lives are improving beyond previous expectations. Amongst many of its uses, IBM’s Watson - a “question answering” machine - uses artificial intelligence to help clinicians provide precision medicine to cancer patients, delivering improved personalised treatment approaches. Data is therefore the impetus to machine learning, giving us richer insights that are faster and more accurate than any manual manipulation could ever do. 

Data sharing therefore is intrinsically good if all parties act responsibly, but the recent data breaches have shown that there is a price if all concerned don’t act responsibly. Users need to think about the risks of sharing data and what they get in return, but the question perhaps is not whether we share but how we share. Personal Data Store (PDS) services are starting to emerge which users use to gather, store, manage and share information. They provide users with tools to control what information they share with which people and organisations. 

The recent data breaches may just be the catalyst we all need to realise the true value of data, take control of it and use it wisely.  

The content above is the opinion of the author(s), and does not represent the views or opinions of Birmingham City University.

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