As 2013 comes to a close, it's clear to me that much of the rhetoric about privacy's death was not only premature but downright wrong. Just in this past week, there have been several events that point to how very alive and critically important the topic of privacy is:
The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation released a report (in advance of a public hearing) about the practices of the data brokerage industry, and how they impact consumers. The report claims that "data brokers operate behind a veil of secrecy, subject to limited statutory consumer protections." This certainly portends the possibility of new legislation being introduced by the committee in 2014.
US District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the bulk collection of millions of Americans' call records likely violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. While conflating surveillance with marketing privacy is a dangerous thing, I suspect that this ruling will draw further attention to the volume, scale, and methods of data collection, irrespective of who's doing the collecting.
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.
It's that time of year again: Tomorrow, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs looking to raise funds, journalists, bloggers, geeks, and digital executives from all over the world will be gathering at LeWeb in Paris. For a couple of days, Paris will turn into the digital Mecca.
A lot of the media and investor attention will focus on the now-traditional startup competition, looking for the new Evernote, Instagram, Nest, or Withings. Here’s the list of the 16 semi-finalists. Emblematic of the entrepreneurial spirit of the conference, David Marcus, founder of startups like Punchd (acquired by Google) and Zong (acquired by eBay) and now CEO of PayPal, will be speaking at the event and will cross paths with a long list of digital visionaries and key executives, such as Pascal Cagni, former general manager and VP of Apple EMEA.
Here are some of my observations on this year's theme — The Internet of Things — as well as a summary of some of Forrester’s latest research on this quickly evolving space.
I recently attended Trend Micro’s Insight 2012 event for an update on corporate and product strategy from Trend executives, hear from partners and enterprise customers about their experiences working with Trend Micro, and sit down to 1:1's with business unit leaders. I met with Carol Carpenter, EVP of Consumer, who shared a bit about what Trend is doing for consumers and provided demos of their latest Android mobile apps out on the market and in development. Of the ones available now, they are the usual suspects – mobile security, backup and restore, and a password manager. And then, there’s a battery optimizer app. Random? No, not really.
Consumer security has come a long way from simply antivirus software for PCs. Mobile security is undoubtedly on everyone’s minds at this point (oh no! device loss, malware, my apps are spying on me!), but that’s only one factor (albeit a big one) contributing to the evolution of this consumer security market. We’re looking at protecting devices, data, identities, interactions, privacy, the consumer – in short, the online experience. That’s where the umbrella of consumer security expands, and I see apps like Trend’s battery optimizer fitting in. It’s not a “security” solution in the traditional sense, and more of a productivity tool. Consumers gain visibility into what the device and apps are doing (to the battery), and using that information to then make an informed decision (e.g., stop running that app, turn off Wi-Fi, etc) to preserve battery because it’s running too low for comfort.
Data security consistently tops the laundry list of security priorities because it must. Organizations are collecting data, creating data, using data, and storing data in some way or another. Mishandle data or disregard privacy, and you’ve got a public relations fiasco on your hands with the potential to disrupt business operations or hurt the bottom line.
So, we know that data security is a priority, but what does that mean? What are organizations actually doing here? How much are they spending, and where are they focusing their efforts? And what are they doing about privacy? I’ve dug into data from Forrester’s Forrsights Security Survey, Q2 2012 and data from the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) to answer these questions in a newly published benchmarks report for our Data Security and Privacy playbook. Note: This is not a shopping list, nor a check list, nor is it a “spend x% on data security because your peers are doing so!” manifesto. This report is meant to be a starting point for discussion for S&R pros within their organizations to take a closer look at their own data security and privacy strategy.
I spent a jam-packed day with security software and services provider AVG last week, checking out their 2013 product line-up for free antivirus and paid premium products, and participating in roundtable discussions with press, analysts, and AVG executives about consumer security, mobile, privacy and policy. Here are my reactions to what AVG is doing:
LIKE: Consumer data (yes, I’m biased here, being the data nerd). AVG has lots of it and it’s all free. This is awesome because it’s a great resource not just for the industry but for other parties to use in education and awareness program design. They’ve done studies across 11 countries for their Digital Diaries studies, surveying parents and kids of different age brackets from 0 to 17 to understand online behaviors and attitudes. Here’s a data nugget that caught my attention: by the time they are two years old, 81% of children have some kind of digital footprint (online photographs, personal data, email and/or social networking accounts). 81%!
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.
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.