Big Data, big dilemma: consumers take control in 2015

Big data remains as ubiquitous a term as it is an under-used resource, and for consumers it’s a growing concern.

Way back in January 2013, Behavioural Economist Dan Ariely famously stated:

“Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it…”

In two years it doesn’t feel like we’ve moved forward that much.

To date, there are shining case studies of big data potential: it can be used to detect ailments (IBM), predict crime patterns (LAPD), better plan and control traffic in cities (IBM), and prevent the spread of infectious diseases (Google).

However, for the average consumer it presents a dilemma. People want to benefit from personalised services, products and messaging, but some things kept private. In 2015 consumers are expected to take greater control of their data, and to benefit from it.

According to the Future Foundation (November 2014):

  • 60% of UK consumers have concerns surrounding privacy when downloading mobile apps.
  • 1 in 3 enable their web browser’s “private” browsing function.
  • Only 6% of consumers believe that they benefit the most from data sharing.
  • 67% believe it is businesses who do.

Here is a clear message to businesses and advertisers: there are boundaries which need to be respected, and a tolerance which needs to be exercised. “What is in it for me?” will be a question asked more often by the average consumer. Passive data collection will be probed and challenged, and personal privacy will be scrutinised.

The EU Data Protection Directive has provided citizens with multiple safeguards such as the right to be forgotten, requirements for explicit consumer consent prior to any data collection, and extensive fines to help enforce legislation, with more regulation on the way. Unfortunately all of this takes time to come in to effect.

Until then, brands can take the lead by meeting the privacy challenges that emerge from the rapid pace of technological change, and creating a culture of data exchange that is to the benefit of all parties involved. If they can accessorise this with tangible and useful benefits to the individuals whose data they hold, then we may start to see the true value of ‘big data’ unleashed in 2015.


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