Our digital footprints are everywhere. For as long as we have been an active participant in the online world we have been leaving traces of our identity across the web.
It seems harmless, after all what can truly go wrong when dropping the odd like on Facebook or handing out your email address to get updates from your favourite clothing company. Data in isolation is indeed mostly harmless. The problems begin when people begin to bring all that information together to paint a detailed picture of exactly who we are.
The consequences of how this data can be used are truly terrifying, manipulating certain demographics during an election by trapping them in a web of fake news and misinformation. The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal of using Facebook data to change the course of democratic votes had all the hallmarks of an episode of Black Mirror.
It has been reported that by analysing 300 likes from a profile on Facebook, the Cambridge Analytica algorithm was able to predict personality traits better than the partner or family of that person. As we spend more time than ever online, we are increasingly opening ourselves up for our data and usage habits to be exploited in sinister ways.
Whether technology has arrived at the point of truly undermining our democratic institutions is a question that only time will answer but the recent scandals have pushed data protection into the public eye.
We are increasingly aware of the value of our personal data and that is sure to pose some big questions to sectors of the marketing community that have dedicated themselves to offering greater personalisation through data insight and analytics.
The truth is that is that marketers have had an incredibly good run when it comes to collecting personal data. For years we have happily handed over our personal information to sign up for a whole range of services, giving out an email and phone number has become an essential part of of the purchase or sign-up process.
The fact that the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke at the same time as GDPR legislation was about to come into effect sewed the seeds of a public debate over data privacy. Marketers must now respond to waylay fears about overreach and repair the broken trust that have come as a result of the misuse of personal data.
Suspicion often closely follows progress and innovation as people fear a Pandora’s box scenario in which we only realise the consequences of our own curiosity when it is far too late. Marketers will not shy away from processing personal data as the benefits of offering a tailored service are far too great for both companies and consumers but they face an uphill battle as the seeds of mistrust continue to spread.
A recent survey by Reuters found that in the wake of recent scandals surrounding Facebook, 51% of Americans now don’t trust the company to handle their data. Reclaiming trust when processing data will become increasingly about having the best interest of a person at heart. Are you using that information to provide them with something that is valuable and interesting or are you spamming and abusing their contact details?
GDPR provides the perfect kicking off point to rebuild trust between companies and consumers. Marketing departments are already thinking of innovative ways to tackle the challenges posed by the new legislation. Redressing these issues and the imbalance in the relationship between consumers and companies online is essential. Rather than viewing current and future legislation as an obstacle, it should be seen as an opportunity to reclaim the trust of a public that is starting to lose faith with many companies that once seemed to be such a force for good.