The issue of data and the possession of it has been a discussion extending back to the first time anyone actually took the time to create a record of something outside their own memory. Since then, we have elected to use devices for storage that are far more complex than stone or clay tablets. These days we have computers, books, film reels – a wide variety of media, a lot of it digital and a lot of it accessible through the internet.
The problem that has arisen over the last decade or so is the issue of data privacy – of how much people know about the data we consider to be our own property. Things like our home address, our full name, even our taste in music. It’s natural to rebel against people possessing this data, because it’s important that our private records remain just that – private.
However, companies like Facebook and governmental organisations like the NSA have been under a considerable amount of scrutiny due to their data-collecting policies and the underhanded way in which they have breached the privacy of millions. Having been documented via journalism, activism and a variety of tactics that were sometimes as underhanded as those that were exposed, these approaches to breaching internet privacy have caused the public at large to question just how secure their data is in this new era of connectivity and accessibility.
In one interesting piece on Wired.com about internet privacy and the NSA, the journalist notes that while the NSA were fine with having an interview with their staff recorded, Facebook were not. To know that the National Security Agency, currently the most criticised and derided organisation in the West, were more comfortable and open than Facebook, says a lot about the way in which sometimes it’s the corporate data-hounds that are worth worrying about, rather than solely focusing on the government.
So what are we to do? The services we use are, of course, incredibly helpful. No one wants to lose access to the benefits we gain from being on Twitter, Facebook – even Gmail. But it’s important to discuss the privacy issues and keep these conversations alive, so companies are less likely to assume the outcry has died down and then continue in the same manner as before.
From a marketing perspective, it’s important to aim to be transparent, communicative, to never shut out the people who are paying your bills. It’s not a call for opening up your email inbox to the curious public, but simply a reasonable means of downgrading the level of anxiety people are currently feeling about their personal details being used as the fodder for an endless series of campaigns. There are good and bad ways to find out more about your customers – treating them well means better, more accurate data, too!
Until some of the biggest companies become a little more ethical with the way they’re collecting data, it’s best to hunker down and ensure that not only are your business’ data-collection processes sound, but that you’re helping to advocate better practices across the board. Show the world that data can do good, and can be given freely to help improve services, not just profit margins.