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The Ugly Side Of Big Data

It’s true that data has laid the foundation for most technology driven changes and that there are many positives to what data brings, but there are a number of negatives too. It is about time that chief marketing officers understood the larger impact their decisions can have, writes Noor Fathima Warsia

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‘Data can trigger the next war’. As strong as that sounds, there is evidence in various instances today that vindicate the statement. Russia hacking Yahoo; the ongoing conversation on Russia’s interference in the US Presidential Elections; cyber attacks; CIA getting hacked; and leaked classified documents that put people’s lives at risk.

“This is all happening at a very macro level right now, but there is nothing preventing it from being personal. Private life is made public because of apps that are tracking people — there is both good and bad in this,” comments Theresa Lamontagne, head of digital marketing and media operations at Verizon.

She explains that as marketers, brands have been collecting data with benign intent. “We are looking to use this data to understand consumers, and to create or show services and products that are relevant to them. But as we see that data is being tapped into with mal-intent, it is a cause for alarm,” she says.

Explaining how it started, bioanalytics firm Lightwave’s CEO Rana June, says it was the industry that went about collecting as much data as possible, relevant or not, for later use. “As long as we have it, we can worry about what to do with it later. That started as a behaviour, hoping that AI will solve the issue, but it has created a bad behaviour,” she said.

Caring About Data Sharing
Companies did not intend to become data companies, but today they are, and now they have to take the responsibility that comes with such gargantuan amount of information, feel leaders who deliberated at the Adobe Think Tank that took place alongside the Adobe Summit held in Las Vegas in March 2017.

A key takeaway from most discussions was that businesses need to make informed decisions as part of the information design. They must focus on creating trust and using data safely, aware of the negative consequences. More importantly, there is a need to educate the consumer on what is the value of her or his data.

While there are examples of companies that have asked and enabled consumers to take charge of the data they otherwise willingly share, the present situation largely indicates that the consumer does not care enough. Despite awareness around privacy, most consumers share significant amount of data, without knowing the value this has for companies.

The new world should, however, demand making the fine print readable. It would also put the onus on companies to explain to their consumers the monetary value of the data they share, and to set the right benchmarks and industry practices around data.

The flip side to this more ideal way of thinking is that ground realities may not allow this yet. After all, it may not be a good idea for companies to make the process cumbersome and slowdown product adoption while educating people. But marketers who can find a way to do the right thing without negatively impacting the business, will create long-term bonds with their consumers.

Rise Of The Data Artist

The data dilemma will have many contours. Many consumers will continue to accept terms of usage of a product or service or app without reading the fine print. To pave the road leading to the ideal data world, a new breed of data professionals is coming in play — the data artist.

While marketers loved working with data scientists for data-driven marketing solutions, data artists will play an essential role in defining future growth. Industry predictions indicate that CEOs may get hired or fired based on their ability to be data artists.

Jim Sterne, founding president and chairman of the Digital Analytics Association, defines his concept of data artist as: “An artist is responsible for creating something new that delivers original insight and evokes emotion. A data artist is responsible for delivering fresh insights from data to help an organisation meet its goals. This is the person who takes the output from decision-support systems and turns it into consumable theories, postulates and hypotheses that can be tested and applied to the business.”

In a world where responsible data practice or the ability to gauge emotion data becomes important, data has to be treated with a combination of art and science. Nandini Nayak, Managing Director, Design Strategy, Fjord (Accenture) argues that this asserts the importance of an empathic connection and an ethical approach in the equation.

There is no denying the good that data can do, but the fact that there is another side to the picture, need businesses to take cognisance of it. It is imperative as companies are looking at ways to centralise data. While this can unlock its true value, it increases the risk significantly as well. And marketers have to work with consumers to fight the concerns that come from it.


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