Big Brother: No one can avoid the debate over personal privacy


Data was a big deal in 2012 and it’s about to get bigger

As we look back over the year and consider what issues will affect us the most in 2013, there is one topic in particular that stands out – the power of data and the increased ability to harness it.

This year represented a tipping point for the issue of data. The introduction of new EU cookie laws and data privacy regulations brought the issue to the forefront and aimed to transform the landscape.

There was, however, fear that the new regulations would be the death of online direct marketing with much anxiety from brands around the potential loss of their almighty wealth of personal data. Although this has not been the case. The full extent of what the regulations will mean are still not quite clear, however, if the introduction of the new cookie law is anything to go by, brands will learn to adapt and obstacles will be overcome.

Trust is a key issue.

As data privacy continues to be a serious matter for consumers with their new and heightened awareness that their data is being stored and used without their permission, it has never been more important for brands to offer transparency. In 2013, in order to attract consumers, brands are going to have to pull out all the stops to gain their trust.

For some brands this is going to be a difficult to battle to win. With the likes of Google’s ‘Goggles’, an image recognition service and the facial recognition service integrated into Facebook, the trust issue is being pushed to its limits. Technology such as this opens up a new realm of ethical debates around data privacy and technology and what is acceptable.

Reports from the ICO indicating that 75 per cent of the top brands in the UK are ignoring the new cookie laws is a clear example that not enough people are taking the personal data issue as seriously as they should be. Insightful data on consumers is fundamental for effective direct marketing and without it brands could seriously damage both their reputation and their sales.

Global Management Consultants, Boston Consulting Group, has just released new research putting a figure of €315bn on the value extracted from European consumers’ personal data in 2011 and believes it has the potential to grow to €1tn annually in 2020. Whether this is optimistic or not it illustrates the massive opportunity that personal data offers. However, as the demand for this data increases exponentially the regulations put in place to control it and give power back to the consumer will also increase. Therefore, it is vital that brands that care about creating long lasting and effective relationships with consumers realise this early on and implement strategies that will build trusting associations with them.

There are stories constantly hitting the press about lost personal data which is putting consumer-brand relationships in real jeopardy. The recent news that o2 and IBM lost a back-up tape containing thousands of customers’ personal information and are still yet to locate it worries consumers and leaves them feeling apprehensive about sharing details in the future with that brand. It is likely that this sort of brazen breach will be punished ruthlessly in the future.

The recently launched ‘midata’ government programme allowing members of the public to request the personal data that companies hold on them and the increasing pressure on the ICO to take action when personal data privacy is abused is going to completely change the landscape and regulations that brands will have to adhere to.

As a seriously hot topic in the EU it is more than likely that further laws will be introduced over the next few years to protect consumers’ data and this law will become increasingly stringent. Therefore brands need to step up to the challenge, plan for the worse and ensure they are completely transparent with their customers.

They need to take a strategic approach and work with consumers to give them clear choices and ask their permission before they use their data. It is only through methods such as this, where a trusting relationship can be built, will consumers continue to be happy about handing over their precious, personal information – so vital for the success of the marketing industry.

Bobby Hui is executive planning director at integrated communications agency G2 Joshua. He has held a number of senior roles in advertising, including head of planning at Saatchi & Saatchi