Data dichotomies

In partnership with The Future Laboratory

As vigilance over the use and collection of personal data grows, smart organizations are empowering consumers and ushering in an all-new era of data discretion, protection and reward.

According to research from the International Data Corporation (IDC), the annual size of the data universe amounted to 64.2 zettabytes in 20201. Projections from UBS chart an equally expansive data future – with the number expected to rocket to 660 zettabytes by 2030 – the equivalent of 610 iPhones per person2. With the pandemic forcing people to spend more time in digital spaces than ever before – sharing data, spending money, working and divulging personal details – unsurprisingly, data privacy is emerging as a major modern concern. Research from Wunderman Thompson Intelligence in 2020 confirms this reality, revealing that the privacy and security of personal online data is the second biggest worry (at 58%) among US consumers3.

 For Katie Hillier, chief digital anthropologist at digital ethnography organization The Liiv Center, the first step in helping to allay these concerns is to create new narratives around what data is. ‘When we’re talking about data, we need to realize we’re talking about people,’ she says. ‘We need to fight to protect people’s privacy, grow awareness and put pressure back on organizations so that they put the right privacy layers in their products. A new movement is required.’

Anonymity economy

Rising security threats and obscure, hidden and hard-to-read policies that surround data collection are leading to widespread skepticism among consumers. Research from KPMG reveals that a majority (86%) of consumers are concerned about data privacy, while more than two-thirds (68%) express fears about the amount of data being collected and two-fifths (40%) don’t trust companies to use their data ethically4.

It may come as no surprise that with levels of trust low, many people are feeling vulnerable about their data footprints. Despite the efforts of initiatives like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), consumers continue to employ safety software to prevent unwanted surveillance. A survey from McKinsey & Co reported that one in 10 internet users deploy ad-blocking software to prevent companies from tracking their online activities, rising to three in 10 in the US5.

As consumer awareness rises, and companies find themselves increasingly shut out from obtaining data, or being penalized for misuse, they have an opportunity to provide people with greater transparency on, access to and control over their personal data. Facebook, for example, is acknowledging the importance of data wellbeing through the creation of a certified digital safety curriculum, while Microsoft’s Decentralized ID (DiD) hackathons aim to demystify data solutions.

Protective practices

Beyond combating consumer fears, opportunities also abound for options to place increased prominence on privacy layers for their platforms and smart products – creating a data eco-sysrganizatem that is defined by trust, autonomy and tools that help consumers take back control. As Stanford University Professor Monica Lam explains: ‘What we really want to do is create a new infrastructure and systems that allow users to say: you can do this to my data’. And with research from Valuates Reports suggesting the data protection industry will reach USD 113.4 billion in the next five years, this future looks set to take hold 6.

A number of initiatives are leading the way. Desktop and mobile app Mine, for instance, helps citizens understand their data footprint by notifying them of the brands and businesses that are holding and using their personal information, allowing them to unsubscribe as they see fit.

These types of protective add-ons are also gaining traction in the smart device sector, where solutions are emerging to limit and specify the information that smart technology tracks and monitors. Researchers and engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for example, have launched Butlr, a tech start-up that captures and analyzes human dynamics. By using passive infrared sensors to detect only body heat, the sensors don’t know who you are – only where you are and where you’re heading, with tracking stopping as soon as you leave the sensor’s range.

Data to dollars

As we move through the decade and a new code of conduct for data collection is realized, future-facing brands may begin passing on the value of personal data to consumers themselves. Hinting at this new value economy is Datacoup. Dubbed ‘the world’s first personal data marketplace’, it works by empowering users to sell anonymous data for cash. Its unique offer is pulling together data shared or collected by users’ mobile apps – for example, their spending habits, Instagram likes and places they visit – in one place. With this information, Datacoup builds a profile for each user that shows off their data value. Users can then redeem money earned – from USD 5 to USD 25 – whenever their data is purchased by a company.

In a bid to create a more positive balance between people and businesses that use their data, meanwhile, the CitizenMe app simplifies data-sharing and market research, working with companies such as Wolff Olins, OMD and International Flavours & Fragrances (IFF) to broker data 7. Its dashboard gives users the option to ‘donate’ data to charities, earn money in exchange for opinions and better understand their own personality traits – and the appeal and value of their data footprint for organizations.

Key implications

  • Transparency and Trust: At a time when individuals feel confused or uncertain about how their data is being used or tracked, businesses may increasingly be required to embrace clear and honest data usage policies that are readily accessible and demystified.
  • Autonomous Interfaces: Users are ultimately striving for data control, with opt-in policies that allow them to share information at their own discretion, and often with the aims of personalization or experiential reward. Savvy businesses would do well to build this type of choice architecture into their offerings.
  • New Value Exchange: With consumers increasingly aware of the value of their data, smart initiatives may herald a new digital economy in which users are rewarded for sharing the information that organizations need to thrive.

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