For consumer brands, data transparency is more important now than ever

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Most organisations today, from social platforms and financial institutions to major retailers, have access to consumer data. Following some recent high-profile data breaches, consumers have become even more interested in where and how their data is being used. That’s why for a company that collects data, transparency is more important than ever. Organisations in this industry need to ensure data is being collected, stored and used properly through the adoption of advanced security and practicing transparency with both consumers and other businesses.

In our data-driven world, it makes sense that consumers have grown concerned that their personal data is being collected by advertisers, apps and wearable devices, among other technologies and businesses. A few years ago, this wasn’t a concern for brands or publishers; that data collection was an implicit part of the fair value exchange that offered free content for advertising. However, as consumers have become more aware of that data collection and use (and misuse) they’ve become more wary.

The good news is that in spite of major breaches from Google, Facebook and many other companies, consumers are, for the most part, still willing to share their data – as long as they understand what they’re getting in return. They also must have trust in the company requesting the data, and while they generally trust businesses more than government agencies, confidence in Google, Facebook and eBay has declined significantly since 2011. And let’s be honest: with breaches so frequently in the headlines, consumers have every right to be concerned about their data. The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal was perhaps the most egregious, since consumer data was clearly used for nefarious purposes. That explains why, in McCann Worldgroup Truth Central global study, while 57 percent of those surveyed did trust companies with their data, a full 43 percent did not – and that’s still a significant percentage.

People are understandably concerned about who is collecting information about them and how it’s being used. The world is responding with new laws and regulations that require both consent and transparency, and pressure is being applied to major industry players. In Europe, Facebook has agreed to new Terms and Conditions. In a recent press release, the European Commission stated:

Today Facebook finally shows commitment to more transparency and straight forward language in its terms of use. A company that wants to restore consumers trust after the Facebook/ Cambridge Analytica scandal should not hide behind complicated, legalistic jargon on how it is making billions on people’s data. Now, users will clearly understand that their data is used by the social network to sell targeted ads. By joining forces, the consumer authorities and the European Commission, stand up for the rights of EU consumers.

Of course, consumers are also standing up for themselves. Many are asking questions about data collection and usage, while others are simply declining to provide personal data. Consumer Reports encourages readers to turn off location tracking, and even decline to provide email addresses to retailers – while casting marketers as villains who are out to collect consumer data for personal gain. The mainstream media puts marketers and tech companies in a similar light: bad guys out to steal personal data and sell it for profit – without ever mentioning that there’s benefit for the customer in more relevant content and offers.

The only way for our industry of marketers, advertisers, publishers and tech companies to gain consumer trust is through transparency and honesty. To build and maintain a meaningful relationship with consumers we need to:

  • Ask permission before collecting data – which is already mandatory in some areas.
  • Be honest about how we’ll be using that data and whether we’ll be sharing or selling it.
  • Store and keep data responsibly, and let customers know about the precautions our organisations are taking to protect their information.
  • Ensure you’re offering value or compensation for the data you’re collecting, whether that means free content, coupons, or something else that matters to your customers.

The IAB provides handy checklists for agencies, publishers and data companies to ensure they’re meeting an industry data maturity model. This model establishes a reasonable standard for all companies in the industry. The DMA/ANA is also doing its part to establish clear best practices for data security.

As an industry, it’s important that we take consumer concerns over privacy seriously. As data becomes the currency of digital advertising, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that that data comes from, and belongs to, human beings. As with everything we do, we must always put the customer first – and that includes allaying their fears and protecting their personal information.

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