The impact of big data is well-documented and oft-praised, but there has always been one issue that has overshadowed every advancement and every new algorithm: data privacy.
There has always been a certain degree of hysteria around privacy. Jonathan Franzen once called it the ‘new American Obsession’. This hysteria has risen exponentially in recent years as organizations have embarked on big data projects that harvest and analyze our data. In a September 2016 survey of US adult internet users conducted by Regina Corso Consulting for Arbor Networks, 84% of respondents said they were at least concerned about their digital privacy, and while this number is falling every year, it is falling exceptionally slowly.
This hysteria is a problem, particularly for the likes of Google and Facebook, whose entire business models rest on their ability to use the huge amounts of personal information they collect from their users. This often goes unnoticed, manifesting itself primarily in more targeted ads and greater personalization. These enable us to have a more efficient and enjoyable experience when we use Google, but it inherently requires both organizations to know a significant amount about us - an amount that when most of us think about it, we are not fully comfortable with. It is an issue that provokes an internal conflict - you want their services, you want them for free, you want them to be the best they can possibly be, but you don’t really want a machine going through your private emails.
Whether this obsession with privacy is justified or not, you would be hard pressed to find a greater hindrance to the growth of big data. Companies hold back for fear of public distrust, while governments implement regulations to prevent organizations collecting data that could potentially be hugely beneficial, not just to the company but also to the consumer and society as a whole.
There are ways around this, though. We need to work harder to ensure there is more education and transparency around how our data is collected and used. Using an opt-in on your site is important and something that may soon be a legal requirement. Anonymity is also important, but this can always be guaranteed simply by removing any identifiers, such as a name or phone number, before the data is passed on to the marketer. Most importantly, we also need to move away from the perception that people are reading your private information and laughing with their friends about it. Mostly, it is machines and algorithms who see you as nothing more than a series of numbers, and your privacy is really not being invaded in any meaningful way.
Tamara Gruzbarg is Senior Vice President of Data, Analytics and Business Information at Time Inc, where her team is focused on harvesting a deep understanding of the consumer from both subscriber and advertising stand points. She has over 20 years of experience spanning such diverse industries as Finance, Consulting, E-commerce, Fashion Retail and Media. Prior to Time Inc. Tamara held leadership positions in consumer analytics for Stuart Weitzman and Gilt Groupe.
We sat down with her to discuss the issues facing Big Data ahead of her presentation at the Big Data Innovation Summit, which takes place in Boston this September 7–8.
How will the way data is used change in the next 5 years?
I expect to see a continuous drive to uber-personalization: not only ads and e-mail messages, but actual products created ‘just for you’ (not customized based on your inputs but personalized based on your behavior).
I would also not be surprised if data starts being used in crafting content itself (including style, tone and sentiment). This would raise even more concerns around influence and manipulation of public opinion.
What impact will new legislation, like the GDPR, have on the way companies use data moving forward?
By increasing the scope of legislation coverage and requiring a very explicit consent from an individual, it can seriously limit the ways how companies use behavioral information. We will need to learn how to ‘sell’ our data strategies directly to consumers in order for them to opt-in. It is clearly a very challenging situation, and would force us to define and communicate the value of the information from a consumer stand point.
What are the biggest challenges that the data community faces?
Privacy concerns continue to have a huge impact on our ability to act on the data.
Public perception of data collection is generally negative, how can we change this in the future? We have to develop a culture of recognizing the customer as a key client of our data services: how do we improve our customers’ lives by collecting the data? How do we relay this value to them?
Are there any technological shortcomings currently holding data back? If so, how can they be overcome?
The industry made huge strides in every major area of interest in a relatively short period of time: I think that in parallel we need to continue developing a culture of usage.
You can hear more from Tamara, as well as other leading industry experts, at the Big Data Innovation Summit. You can view the full agenda here.
BONUS CONTENT: Watch Jeffrey Graham, VP of Insights & Analytics at Twitter, share how Twitter is pioneering techniques to measure how and why people use social media