Trust & Control – Ensuring Data Privacy in a Time of Crisis

Never has the phrase “Things have changed” been more relevant. Even though the east to west spread of Corona virus was predicted and the lockdown seemed inevitable, we could never have expected just how much life and business would be affected.

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The much-maligned Big Tech industry is stepping up to the plate in some predictable, and other less so predictable ways. IBM has Watson on the job in various guises, though I’m not sure how helpful MIT turning the virus’ protein structure into a musical score is, having said that I’m no infectologist! Google and Apple are joining forces to develop an App that will “…alert people if they have recently come into contact with others found to be infected with coronavirus.”. Surely its an incredible feat to be celebrated that these two massive, competing tech giants are working together for humankind? Resoundingly “yes” is the answer, on the face of it at least. The concern, as with the mass collection of any large data set, is the possibility of leakage or misuse, but that mustn’t be used an excuse for inaction. As long as we bear in mind the Peter Parker principle: With great information, comes great responsibility.

It could well be that when we look back at all this, the Faangs and (perhaps ironically) the Chinese Bats (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent) are viewed the social saviours of the lockdown. Its true several if not all the Faangs have become more a part of my daily life: Facebook with Messenger, Apple with Facetime, Amazon through delivery of “essentials”, Netflix’s guilty pleasure Tiger King, and Google with its Classroom app perhaps posing the question “Is this the end of traditional schooling?”

I agree with the tone of recent articles written by Ryan Bourne (Cato Institute) that the techlash should be over. Whether I fully buy into the statement “Faced with a choice of continued house arrest or a more tracked life, user concerns about targeted advertising will plummet” I’m not sure, to me it oversimplifies the issue. Trust and control are what I want as a citizen. Trust that my data is secure and not being shared beyond the permissions I allow, and the choice of who can use it and what for.

Of course advertising has to be the quid pro quo for the non-subscription based “free” services but what we as consumers should be doing, along with the duty of the regulators, is demanding more transparency and diligence from those who; collect, store and profile our personal data. I don’t want to be bombarded with adverts for summer holidays after I’ve already booked one, or wedding rings after I’ve got married, or worse still, profiled for a political agenda.

Some companies do get it right, and in doing so, build customer trust and loyalty. One of the conclusions from the 2019 report Build Your Trust Advantage from the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) is when organisations build trust ecosystems that comprise of; customers, employees and partners, they grow revenue and profit more compared to their peers. How do they do this? Three principles “transparency, reciprocity, and authenticity.” It seems therefore that “The race is on to discover precisely where an organization’s customers draw the line on privacy and what they consider a fair tradeoff for their data. The prize for those who get there first is high-trust business models that differentiate them from their competitors.”

A good start on the journey for any brand or organisation in these changing times is to engage customers in a more personal way. Its impractical to consider one to one, face to face communication when you have thousands or millions of customers but to discard trust entirely and treat consumers in a robotic dogmatic manner is not the answer. Now, more than ever, transparent communication is key.

Luke Smalley

Luke Smalley

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