Big Data won't pay off without consumer trust

19 Feb 2013

Earlier this month, Ovum released a consumer insight survey with a very interesting finding: whatever your plans are to leverage Big Data, most consumers don’t want to be part of it.

According to Ovum’s latest Consumer Insights Survey, "68% of the Internet population across 11 countries would select a “do-not-track” feature if it was easily available."

Combine that with stricter regulation on sharing and protecting personal data and privacy, says Ovum analyst Mark Little, and you're looking at a future where Big Data isn’t nearly as big as you might think. That’;s going to diminish not only the pool of available data, but the opportunities to monetize it, impacting multiple links in the value chain, from targeted advertising and CRM to big data analytics, and operators themselves. ran that story a couple of weeks ago, but it’s hard to overstate how significant that finding is, not least because it indicates how consumer awareness of privacy is changing in the age of socially networked smart devices.

In the heady early days of social networks, many users weren’t all that concerned about privacy and tracking, largely because they either didn’t know that was possible (or legal), or they trusted the social network provider to safeguard that privacy.

In 2013, that’s no longer the case. Outfits like Facebook, Google, Sony and WhatsApp have endured embarrassments over data privacy and leakage – repeatedly, in a few cases. Meanwhile, enough people have discovered the hard way that employers also read Facebook and could very well see yr drunk college photos and what you said about your previous boss – and take that into account during your job interview or performance review.

In short, users are becoming increasingly aware that digital privacy does matter. And that’s making them increasingly uncomfortable about news from the technology press that operators can use Big Data analytics to parse their digital footprint for all kinds of things – especially when it comes to things like location tracking and widely circulated reports like the one filed by the Wall Street Journal at the end of 2010 claiming that apps breach your privacy by design.

Still, the question remains just how big a hole that 68% of users opting out of tracking blows in the Big Data pie. That may dependon how you look at it.

For instance, not all Big Data is useful from an analytics perspective. In fact, most of it isn’t, according to an IDC study released in December. In 2012, less than a quarter of the digital universe was useful for Big Data if it was tagged and analyzed. But only 3% of that useful data is tagged, and less of it analyzed.

So the amount of usable Big Data isn’t all that high to start with. If close to 70% of the mobile data user base opts not to be tracked, will that figure be lower?

That probably depends on where we go from here. Ovum recommends that service providers do a couple of things: (1) go on a charm offensive to convince users that their privacy isn’t at risk, and that Big Data mining offers true value and benefits to them, and (2) giving consumers the tools they need to have as much control as possible over how their personal data is used.

It’s good advice. We’ve already seen that for all the handwringing over “invasive” location-based services and mobile advertising, as well as things like Facebook’s constant privacy changes, consumers can and will trade off some privacy if they feel they’re getting good value out of it, whether it’s better music recommendations or a mobile coupon for a nearby coffee shop.

But they still expect and demand that service providers handle their data safely and responsibly. The job for service providers is to convince the 68% that they’re trustworthy enough to do just that. And mean it.

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