Facebook’s mood manipulation experiment is the latest big data blunder in the news. In 2012, the social networking site altered news feeds for thousands of users to display primarily positive or negative posts – and then watched to see if users’ posts reflected what they were seeing in their feeds.
I’m sure that most businesses go into these types of programs with good intentions – but the concerns of individuals about their privacy cannot be overlooked. The issues of data security and consumer privacy protection are age old problems that existed with small data too. With big data, however, we’re affecting a much larger population. The risk is greater, but if you can get the balance right, the rewards – for individuals and society - can be greater too.
What could businesses do differently to make their programs more successful?
- Make programs available only for those that opt in. If Facebook had said, “Do you want to take part in research projects to help us improve our experience with you?” plenty of people would have agreed to participate. Up front permission also means the results can be shared more openly, and the community feels invested enough to share the results and offer ideas on how to use the data to benefit users.
- Provide clear benefits to consumers. Research consistently shows that consumers are willing to share data if they receive something in return. The benefits could be discounts, improved personalization, service enhancements or even larger benefits to society. The catch is that you can’t just promise these things. Consumers have to experience the benefits themselves, or they will opt out of the service later.
- Communicate the purpose and limitations of the program. If businesses can present big data programs in a way that makes the benefits clear to shopper or users, then they will be embraced. Program limitations should also be explained up front in simple language so consumers know what to expect.
From providing better service bundles and offering relevant discounts to bringing new drugs to market and predicting economic trends, big data has the potential to provide many benefits. The majority of these programs should be about improving consumers’ experiences or improving society.
I’d love to see a news cycle that focuses on the benefits of big data, not just the blunders. If organizations focus on the three steps above, I’m confident we’ll be reading more and more of those types of positive stories, and we’ll all see benefits as a result.