We’re traveling at the speed of cool to creepy


The Big Data MOPS Series with Tamara DullWho would you give your personal information to: your state’s new toll road system, an amusement park, neither, or both?

At a Forrester event earlier this year, Melissa Parrish, a Forrester VP and research director, told the story about how her father (we’ll call him Bob), who lives in New Jersey, was rattled by NJ’s E-ZPass system to streamline toll collection on roads. “There’s no way I’m giving them my personal information so I can get a pass!” he told his daughter.

Bob had been traveling the toll roads to his job in New York City for decades, and he had no interest in getting an E-ZPass electronic tag in his car. Yet later, when Bob went to Disney World in Orlando with his grandchildren, he was delighted with Disney’s new MagicBand, and couldn’t stop raving about it.

Given Melissa’s deep knowledge of customer data and how it’s used, she didn’t understand why her father was not okay sharing his personal data with the NJ Turnpike Authority—even though it meant he would save time and money on his daily commute. Yet, Bob was more than willing to let Disney track his every move, check-in to FastPass+ rides, buy food, and get in and out of the park and hotel—all with the swipe of the band on his wrist.

This is the dilemma we all face: How much personal information are we willing to give up to enjoy some of the conveniences offered by technology today? And at what point does cool (like Disney’s MagicBand) cross the line and become creepy (like NJ’s E-ZPass)?

About personal data collection. A minority of us travel toll roads, and it may be years before we visit a Disney park and have the opportunity to wear a MagicBand. Yet all of us are experiencing the universal impact of big data privacy in our daily lives, whether it’s in our cars, on our devices, at home, in our work places, while traveling, or just out and about around town.

Big data privacy and personal data collection are tightly coupled. Companies and individuals we do business with have been collecting our personal information for decades – either on paper or electronically. Technically speaking, they’ve been collecting our “small” transactional data (and in some cases, a lot of it). “Big” data has changed this data playing field. “We the people” are now generating an exponential amount of data with all our Facebook photos, Twitter updates, YouTube videos, smartphones, GPS tracking devices, FitBits, and smart home appliances and devices. And yes, even with our E-ZPass electronic tags and MagicBands.

By establishing an account, relationship, and/or connection with a company, brand or app, we are trusting them to use our personal data ethically, securely, and more often than not, privately.

Why this matters. I love this quote from Vala Afshar: “We are not a team because we work together. We are a team because we trust, respect and care for each other.” When a company/brand/app makes our trust, respect, and care a top priority—in action, not just in words—it strengthens the relationship and creates customer loyalty.

It is no longer good enough to make the connection or get the account. The challenge now for companies/brands/apps is to demonstrate that they are trustworthy, respectable, and care about safeguarding what customers have shared with them—i.e., their personal data. Failing this challenge or not taking this challenge seriously enough only opens the door to your competitors.

Now it’s your turn. As a data professional, you understand your customers’ concerns with big data privacy because you’re grappling with it yourself on a personal level. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes as you consider the following priorities:

  • Convenience. We all like convenience, and in an economy where time is short and competition is high, it’s important that we continually improve our customers’ experience with us—whether it’s faster processing times, easier site/app navigation, less clicks, or more channel options to connect. In making your customers’ experience more convenient, be sure to properly safeguard any additional data being collected.
  • Connection. In today’s economy, we largely stay connected through the data we share and the devices we use. Even our cars, homes, workplaces, and cities are becoming more connected through data and devices. What role does your company play in this connected economy? Are you making it easier or harder for your customers to stay connected?
  • Value. Customers will share their personal information with you if they believe they’re getting something valuable in return. The rub here is that value is both relative and subjective. What one person desires and values highly, another person may quickly dismiss. The key takeaway here is if your company collects personal information, only collect the data you need to run your business or improve their experience, and continually look for ways to reward them for their data.

One final thought. If you recall, Melissa’s father, Bob, was creeped out by the NJ E-ZPass system, yet delighted with Disney’s MagicBand. Melissa asked her father why. “The MagicBand is worth it. It’s convenient and offers a lot of value,” her father replied.

Personally, I find the MagicBand both cool and creepy—and the NJ E-ZPass the least creepy of the two. But that’s just me. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Originally written for and published on Smart Data Collective as part of the Big Data MOPS Series

Editor's note:  Tamara's point about convenience, connection and value like at the heart of the data privacy debate - balancing those considerations is how to address the issue. But as per her final thought, value is relative and very subjective. And it's really about perceived value - so what's a marketer to do?

To me, that makes two big reasons data privacy is a concern for marketing - in the first place because marketing is the rightful steward of the customer relationship, and secondly because it's marketing's responsibility to communicate the value proposition for customers to entrust your organization with safeguarding their personal data and using it responsibly.

SAS recently conducted a global study on consumer attitudes toward privacy and personalization, which is summarized in this report:  Finding the Right Balance Between Personalization and Privacy. The research confirmed two important points:

  1. As consumers continue to use technology that opens their lives to others, they have dual expectations of businesses: understand me as an individual and protect my privacy.
  2. In the end, it’s clear that businesses must align customer incentives for personalization in terms of relevancy and context with concerns over how personal data will be collected and used.

There are many other great take-aways in that report and I'm confident you'll find it worth reading.  Thanks, as always, for following our blog!


About Author

Tamara Dull

Director of Emerging Technologies

I’m the Director of Emerging Technologies on the SAS Best Practices team, a thought leadership organization at SAS. While hot topics like smart homes and self-driving cars keep me giddy, my current focus is on the Internet of Things, blockchain, big data and privacy – the hype, the reality and the journey. I jumped on the technology fast track 30 years ago, starting with Digital Equipment Corporation. Yes, this was before the internet was born and the sci-fi of yesterday became the reality of today.

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