How to Strike a Balance Between Privacy and The Data-Driven Economy

Most people claim to care deeply about protecting their personal data. They will say privacy is something that’s extremely important to them, yet will engage regularly with products and services where they’ve no expectation of data ownership. This may be due to a feeling of powerlessness where their information is concerned. 

“As a society, are we already so hooked on the conveniences Internet-enabled technologies provide us that we’re hard-pressed making the claim that we want the control of our personal data back?” asks Content & Commerce Practice Lead Vice President Brian Byer. “Despite consumers’ apparent concern about online security, [our survey] revealed participants do very little to safeguard their information online, especially if doing so comes at the cost of convenience and time...while people are clearly dissatisfied with the state of internet privacy, they feel uninspired or simply ill-equipped to do anything about it.” 

The problem, at least in part, is that the collection and utilization of personal data has become so entrenched at so many levels that we’ve started to take it for granted. Whether businesses are selling our personal data to analytics firms with shady government connections or engaging in unsanctioned psychological experiments on their users, it’s become par for the course. But change is in the air.

Gradually, people are demanding they be given back control of their personal information. Governments and regulatory agencies are proposing legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). And businesses are realizing that, for all the gains of limitless data collection and digital surveillance, there are just as many drawbacks.

The push for better privacy controls and the requisite pushback from businesses is perhaps best exemplified by BlackBerry co-founder Jim Balsillie. As the former CEO of one of the most security-conscious corporations in the world, he has a lot to say about the current state of privacy. And none of it is good.

He is particularly critical of the Sidewalk Labs smart city project.

“This is a colonizing experiment in surveillance capitalism attempting to bulldoze important urban, civic, and political issues,” wrote Balsillie in a 2018 Globe and Mail Op-Ed. “Of all the misguided innovation strategies Canada has launched over the past three decades, this purported smart city is not only the dumbest but also the most dangerous.” 

“It’s the job of businesses to maximize their profits within the rules, and it’s the job of society to put the rules in place,” he later explained in an interview with The Walrus. “In the data-driven era, we need to think of prosperity, cybersecurity, and sovereignty as an integrated whole.”

The meaning of Balsillie’s statement means many things, depending on the industry you work in. From a marketing perspective, it means prioritizing user consent, security hygiene, and ethical data collection. It means not only applying the strongest protections possible to the data we gather, but also ensuring that data is only used in ways its owner approves of.

On the surface, it might appear that will make your job harder. And in some ways, it will. You will need to hold yourself accountable and meet an unfamiliar duty of care to your audience. 

At the same time it won’t be as much of an adjustment as you might think.

“Shake ups like [the increased focus on digital privacy] are great for good marketers,” writes lead generation expert Martin Smith. “Abuse of the telephone brought the Do Not Call List. Email spam birthed the CAN-SPAM act and SEO spammers forced Google penalties like Penguin, Hummingbird, and Panda.” 

“In every case, the regulation cleaned up much of the riff raff and left the experts to continue prospering,” he adds. 

So, what are the takeaways? 

  • Consumers and regulators alike are increasingly focused on privacy and data ownership. 
  • People feel helpless when it comes to protecting their information, and that helplessness is creating a great deal of frustration. 
  • Customer-focused, transparent, and authentic marketing is the true road to success in this ecosystem. 

The data-driven economy might seem like it’s threatened by an increased focus on privacy. But giving people greater ownership over how their information is bought, sold, and used will benefit us all.

Because at the end of the day, people are more than willing to share openly with brands they trust. The big problem is that in the current climate, they don’t trust anyone. 

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