Yesterday, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill published an essay on AdAge.com that calls on data brokers to join -- or, rather, establish -- an initiative called "Reclaim Your Name." The goal of the program would be to provide a single portal where consumers could see what data the industry has collected about them, provide options to opt in and out, and to correct data that might be inaccurate.
While the commissioner's article is a bit heavy on the "big data" rhetoric, her point is well taken: We have entered an era where the volume of data that individuals make available about themselves -- often inadvertently -- is increasing daily. Unfortunately, guidelines for how marketers and the larger data industry collect and use personal data are in short supply. This conflict is one of the major challenges that our industry faces in the coming decade: How can brands excel in the age of the customer if they're constantly under scrutiny about their privacy and data practices?
Acxiom, one of the world's largest data brokers, recently launched its own version of the kind of portal Commissioner Brill calls for. AboutTheData.com lets individuals see a subset of the data Acxiom knows about them, provides correction and opt-out opportunities, and aims to provide consumers with education about the data industry as a whole.
Yesterday, Acxiom, one of the world's largest data brokers and a key player in the marketing services ecosystem, launched an important new consumer service (still in Beta) called "About The Data." It's an initiative to show consumers some of the data that Acxiom has compiled about them, to provide education around how certain types of data are sourced and used, and to let users correct and/or suppress the use of these datapoints for marketing purposes.
This is a big deal. Why? Because it's pushing Acxiom (and, frankly, the entire third-party data industry) way out of its comfort zone on a few levels.
First, this is not a company that is used to dealing with consumers on a mass scale. Acxiom's DNA is fundamentally B2B; learning how to communicate to, and design tools for, individual consumers is a massive undertaking, and it shows in the UI. For example, when I attempted to register my address with a "#" preceding my apartment number, the format was rejected without any indication that symbols were disallowed in that field. As a tech-savant, it only took me one more attempt to figure that out, but not all consumers are so savvy. Similarly, clicking the "Home" button on the navigation bar logs users out without any notice or warning.
Eighteen months ago, when I started down the path of what would become our body of Personal Identity Management (PIDM) research, there were only a few customer intelligence professionals who gave much credence to the picture we were painting. What a difference a year makes. Today, privacy, data governance, consumer empowerment, and understanding "the creepy factor" are core to the conversations I have with CI pros in both marketer and vendor organizations.
At the center of those conversations is often the question, "Who are the players in tomorrow's consumer data ecosystem?" We've just published a report, Making Sense of a Fractured Consumer Data Ecosystem, that reviews the strengths and weaknesses of four existing vendor categories plus three emergent business models. These include:
Consumer data giants: Companies, like Acxiom, Epsilon, Experian, and Infogroup, that have an opportunity to become consumer-friendly data managers but are at greatest regulatory risk
Reputation management providers: Companies, like Intelius and Reputation.com, that could help consumers manage data access but need to focus on their B2C business models to do so
Online services giants: Companies, like Google, MSN, and Yahoo, that already have access to highly personal data but serve too many masters
Yesterday, the White House released a long-awaited set of recommendations that are focused on helping individuals take greater control of how their data is collected and used for online marketing purposes. It includes what's being referred to as a "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights."
The language is vague. The timeline to completion is long. The guidelines, for now, are "opt-in" for organizations. All true.
But folks? The glory days of scraping and selling and repurposing customer data are over. The Oval Office has spoken on the issue of privacy and personal data, and its bill of rights is crystal clear: Tell me what you’re collecting, how you’re using it, protect it well, give me a copy, and give me a chance to correct it, delete it, or opt out entirely.
Plenty’s been written already about Facebook’s IPO filing yesterday. I won’t rehash the many excellent analyses that you’ve surely already seen.
Instead, I want to take this blog post into thought-experiment territory. I want to think about a world in which Google and Facebook are primary competitors in a mano-a-mano battle—not just for our eyeballs, but for our data, too. For the right, as it were, to be our “digital identity.”
Over the holidays, my mother—67 year old tech-accepter, Kindle-owner, smartphone-avoider—called me into the office to show me her Facebook newsfeed. “How,” she asked, “do they know that I’m interested in Persian classical music and that I live in Los Angeles?” As I was explaining behavioral targeting and computational advertising, I glanced over at the computer, only to see her click through and order tickets from that Facebook ad.
So I asked, “Do you trust Facebook?” To which she replied, “Of course not!” as she entered her credit card number, home address, and email address for a very spendy concert ticket.
“Do you trust Google?” I asked. “More than Facebook, I suppose,” she answered. “But Facebook shows me stuff I like more often than Google does.”
That experience, plus a brainstorm with my colleagues on the Customer Intelligence team here at Forrester got me thinking: What if, as a consumer, you had to choose between Facebook and Google? Which service is more valuable to you? Which will BE more valuable in the future? I decided to compare the competitors (and let there be no mistake—Facebook’s S-1 filing very clearly identifies Google as Enemy No. 1) across the dimensions of Forrester’s customer engagement cycle:
Now, as a customer intelligence analyst, I preach a “consolidated view of the customer” to clients nearly every day. I advise retailers, CPGs, and others that creating an optimal experience for customers is nearly impossible without having a clear understanding of their needs and preferences, across all channels and lines of business. But what Google’s doing extends well past traditional “single view” and into “personal data locker” territory.
On the face of it, Google claims that it’s making these changes for the same reason: to improve the user experience. But to remain profitable and keep providing free services to several hundred million users, Google will also use its vastly increased insight about users to sell better targeted (read: more expensive) ads to advertisers.
Most marketers and customer intelligence (CI) pros tend to lump together most types of customer data. Sure, things like passwords and social security numbers are considered more "sensitive," but for the most part, the systems that protect all the data -- and the privacy policies that communicate their capture and governance -- are largely the same.
Individuals see different types of data differently -- they're most worried about what we consider individual identity data, and far less concerned about the capture and use of their behavioral data.
Most consumers are willing to share their data in exchange for value. But, what they consider "valuable" is very age-dependent -- in other words, the same consumer isn't equally motivated by discounts and cash rewards.
By now, you’ve likely read a whole host of stories about Google’s reported play at competing with Amazon’s Prime "one-day shipping" program. The crux of it? The internet giant is planning to leverage its local search product to offer consumers a same-day shipping option if they purchase from a participating retailer.
There are plenty of challenges to this business model, many of which are covered here and here--logistics, data sharing, and cost structure are just three key issues that Google would need to tackle head-on to make such a program viable. Nonetheless, it got me thinking... there’s an aspect of this proposed plan that is awfully intriguing from a Personal Identity Management (PIDM) perspective.
Google could effectively build the first purchase transaction personal data locker. Here's how:
In order to facilitate delivery, Google would have to capture transaction data at the product level.
This would let consumers maintain "anytime-anywhere" access to their purchase history. Imagine never again rooting around for a receipt to return an item, or trying to remember which size bags your vacuum cleaner takes.
This week, some Wells Fargo customers in South Carolina and Florida got a nasty surprise. Turns out, a "malfunctioning printer" printed multiple customers' account information (including transactions and, in some cases, Social Security numbers) on the pages of other customers' statements.
The number of customers affected hasn't been made public -- a real misstep in my opinion, and one which renders Wells Fargo's public apology rather hollow sounding. Remember: Transparency is a key factor in gaining consumer trust in the era of personal identity management.
Aside from the bank's public handling of the matter, though, there's another important issue. Too often, when organizations talk to us about security and privacy, they're focused on digital data. But the truth is, there is plenty of analog data that follows individuals around, from in-store transactions and personal trainer visits to, yup, mailed bank statements. It's not enough for firms to spend millions of dollars protecting consumers' digital footprints if they're not also thinking about both inbound and outbound uses of offline data.
Does your organization have discipline and governance around the way offline data is captured, managed, and disseminated?
It has been a few years since Forrester delved deeply into the issues surrounding consumer privacy, and in that time, an awful lot has changed:
Facebook Connect, Google ID, Yahoo Identity, and Sign In With Twitter have emerged as a wholenew way of being recognized across a myriad of websites across the Net. As little as a decade ago, most adults online couldn’t have imagined the convenience of single sign-on.
At the same time, data capture methods have not only proliferated, they’ve become exceptionally sophisticated. Tactics like Flash-based cookies and deep packet sniffing surreptitiously collect behavioral data about online consumers, while loyalty and membership cards provide more insight into consumers’ purchasing habits at the line item level than ever before.
All that extra data is hard to protect without big changes to governance policies and technology stacks, and when data breaches happen, they're public and ugly.
Finally, legislators have forged ahead with regulations to protect consumer data. Europe's answer is the Data Protection Directive – a regulatory framework that governs the capture, management and use of consumer data, while in the US, congressional leaders, egged on by consumer advocacy groups, are introducing bills designed to limit data capture and to provide remediation in cases of data and security breach.