Data Tidal Wave: Opportunity and Responsibility

In the last two weeks, I have had the good fortune of participating in a number of wonderful industry events. I need to pause for a moment and express how full my brain is, and how keyed up I am with the possibility of the future! It is clear to me the marketing (and global, for that matter) transformation that we have been speaking about for many years is truly upon us – and it is coming like a tidal wave.

Over the course of these past two weeks, I’ve had a unique opportunity to look both micro and macro at how the digital transformation is impacting us as brands and as individuals, from how corporate brands are innovating to engage with their increasingly elusive customers, to how individuals are participating in and creating a collaborative economy.

What I’d like to delve into with you all, as fellow marketers, is the specific topic data privacy. In all honesty, it has been on my mind quite a bit and growing over the course of the summer and the many events that I’ve attended recently. Through discussions about platforms, mobile marketing (or as this tweet so eloquently points out: “It’s not mobile marketing. It’s marketing in a mobile world“), digital engagement, customer-centricity, and the like, paired with the discussions of social analytics, psychographics, and predictive profiling, I had already been thinking about both the amazing and scary future enabled by the data footprints we all leave just by going about our daily lives. Amazing because we can interpret real insight from this data, and scary for just the same reason – data scientists can see where we go, what we do, and when. And it’s becoming more and more visible in the press, from retail to sports. Take this recent article about how the Sacramento Kings basketball team is leveraging data; it talks about analyzing visual data, like plays via video of the court, as well as statistics. And this one about Facebook’s re-launch of Atlas. Suffice it to say: It’s here.

Which is what brings me to Marie Wallace’s presentation at TED@IBM, “Privacy by Design: Humanizing Analytics.” Wallace is an analytics strategist for IBM. I already knew that she has led the research and creation of some incredible projects, including the small Natural Language Processing (NLP) research project that turned into an enterprise technology that underpins dozens of IBM products, including IBM Watson of Jeopardy fame. What I didn’t (yet) know was her core belief that as a data scientist there is an inherent obligation to protect the individual. I also didn’t realize that she was applying – and advocating for – a serious code of data ethics. She discussed the power and responsibility data scientists have. Wallace’s example was one of analyzing internal employee data created through the use of enterprise social networks (IBM’s own) and the request to provide insights and reporting. In her example she discussed the insight that can be garnered from aggregate data without invading the privacy of the individual, and she called data scientists to carry the banner of privacy protection for the individual, as she herself does.

As a marketer who is thinking about how we can better optimize cross-channel digital engagement and match up cookies, mobile IDs, social identities, and others, while also realizing the implications to my own personal data security, this was a fresh perspective to know that (at least some of) those designing the data analysis systems are approaching their work with privacy and ethical responsibility in mind. As consumers become more educated through news coverage, it will be interested to understand how the market (may – OK, very well likely) shift. Stories like George Clooney using “burner phones” to prevent hackers or leaks for his wedding plans or wedding photos, to new social networks like Ello, built on the foundation of data privacy, consumers and individuals are starting to demonstrate their desire for control.

We marketers will need to think carefully how we can leverage behavior data to improve the customer experience, while allowing visibility and control for individuals who are going to want to understand how their personally identifiable information could be used.

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