Big Data

The privacy tradeoff

6 steps for getting data right

A generation ago, you would have walked into the local drug store and expected the druggist to know you. At the local bank, the tellers knew where you worked, how often you deposited your checks and what loans you currently had on file. At the department store, the sales clerk knew your size, your style preferences and your seasonal purchase history.

What happened? Over time, that sense of being known at the corner store has disappeared. In the mass market, a whole generation of consumers got lost. Privacy became the norm, and a level of mistrust arose around businesses possessing data about us.

Currently, that trend is reversing in the digital space. Today, consumers expect to be known online, but they want something in return. They are willing to provide data about themselves—and even let businesses share data with each other—if they can get better service as a result.

A recent study conducted by SAS reveals that consumers want businesses to understand them, despite privacy concerns. The survey of 1,260 US adults revealed that consumers want information tailored to their needs and delivered through their preferred communication channels, and they want a consistent experience during interactions.


Of particular note, they want recommendations for products and services based on their lifestyle, previous purchases and search history. Online retailers, according to the survey, fill this bill the best.

To help navigate this changing world, marketers can bring light to the benefits of sharing data. It starts by providing clear personalization and value to online consumers without abusing profile data. Collecting data is not wrong. However, applying that data in unethical ways is wrong. To get it right, I advocate this six-step approach:

  • Always make data sharing an opt-in practice for consumers. Do not assume consumers want to share data without asking first.
  • Collect information about customers that they are willing to provide. Data helps you know your customers like the proprietors of that old corner store.
  • Protect consumer data the same way you would protect consumers in your brick-and-mortar stores. Establish a solid data protection plan and test it often.
  • Combine social and geographic data with your existing customer data when possible and cleanse that data thoroughly.
  • Be open and transparent about the data you’re collecting and how it’s being used. Make the privacy settings on your site simple and easy to adjust.
  • Create programs and offers using this data that customers will love, so they’ll see the benefits of providing their data to marketers online.

The businesses that understand the consumer’s needs and get the privacy trade-off right will be the winners in the new world of big data monetization. Helping consumers develop a profile that can be securely carried around online so that it becomes an asset for the consumer will benefit the business and the customer.