A consensus on consumer data is needed

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have snowballed in recent years to become an accepted spending frenzy for the UK with an estimated £6 billion spent online across the weekend in 2016.

People’s obsession with online shopping is indicative of how much the internet now underpins their everyday lives. All of this activity is generating huge amounts of data.

However, the data is throwing up as many questions as it is answers for consumers. Who has access to my data? What are they doing with it? What do “I” get in return?

As data increasingly becomes the most sought after digital commodity, there needs to be consensus amongst consumers and businesses on how personal data is handled.

>See also: Big data vs. the Internet of Things: how the projects differ

The IEEE recently surveyed 1000 UK adults on their opinions towards their personal data and the findings revealed a growing concern about privacy, education and trust between consumers and those who keep their data.

Consumer awareness

As consumers spend more time online, there is a growing awareness of the sheer volume of data they are producing.

Despite this, an overwhelming majority felt left in the dark, with 85% not knowing how much data they are giving away nor where it is going or to whom.

With this juxtaposition of awareness without knowledge, consumers are now demanding more be done to educate the public on how personal data is being used by companies online.

81% felt more education is needed and over half would feel more comfortable sharing their data if they had a higher level of clarity.

While education is clearly important to consumers, the onus for providing this education should fall on companies. Companies must make it clear what data they have access to, where they are storing it, how long they will keep it and how it will be used.

In the same way we have service-level agreements, there needs to be an agreement in place between organisations and the consumer on data storage and use.

Business value

This current situation is a product of many companies approaching data collection in the wrong way and service-level agreements would benefit companies as much as it would consumers.

Too many websites take the approach of collecting as much data as they can, with little consideration whether the data is valuable or not. Not only is this wasteful but this practice is causing distrust amongst consumers.

Companies should seek permission for data storage and usage rather than assuming consent. A consumer cannot consent to something he or she does not understand.

>See also: How big data is changing business innovation

Ensuring consumers understand what data is being generated and then seeking permission to use and store this data provides a small amount of control and choice to the consumer which will help to rebuild trust in an increasingly fractured relationship.

With 65% of consumers unable to name one positive experience from sharing their personal data, and even worse still, 65% able to name a negative experience as a direct consequence of data sharing, good data practices are becoming a differentiator in a competitive market.

Security concerns

High-profile data breaches are in the headlines more frequently and as a result data security is now front of mind for many. In an increasingly digital world where 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated daily, consumers are beginning to question the security of their data and want clarity on the matter.

If data is vulnerable to hackers, consumers want to know what data companies hold, how secure it is and what benefit they receive in return for taking on this risk.

Over two thirds of respondents explicitly expressed concerns about how many organisations have their data. Meanwhile almost two thirds felt that combatting fraud was the most acceptable use of personal data, highlighting the desire for data not to simply be used to generate profit for the company.

Companies should move to aggregate users’ data in order to anonymise the information they hold and ensure that, in the case of a breach, individuals cannot be identified.

>See also: How to make big data work for SMEs

It is a small move which will likely be well received by those anxious about sharing their data online. Another part of the solution is creating a default standard.

Companies are bound by legislation to ensure products meet a set standard and data practices should be no different. It is vital for government and independent industry organisations to work together in setting the base line of what is acceptable in data collection.

In today’s modern environment, where companies are reliant on data to improve their services and offer better customer experience, they have little choice but to secure the data they keep. As consumers become more savvy about their data, they will increasingly demand more clarity.

By taking steps to address the key concerns consumers have around personal data, companies can establish a relationship built on trust and offer better products and services that benefits both the business and the customer. This will be the key differentiator in a competitive, modern market.


Diogo Mónica, IEEE member and security lead at Docker

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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Black Friday
Cyber Monday