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Privacy and big data are on a collision course. From the cover of the Economist, to a feature story in Marketing Week leading observers note that while businesses are vacuuming up unprecedented amounts of information, their customers are increasingly uncomfortable with it. Will marketers be able to avert a wreck or will they simply stand by and watch?

Our own research reveals growing consumer discomfort with large-scale data collection. A Vision Critical survey in the UK, USA and Canada found that over eight in ten were opposed to companies collecting information on their online behavior and a majority also opposed government being able to do so - even with a court order.

paying with your privacy

Another study found that majority of people in the UK and Canada consider National Security Authority (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden a hero rather than a traitor, reflecting the powerful distaste for surveillance - even in the US.

Yet many companies barge ahead and collect extraordinary amounts of data on customers and prospects, sometimes to better target their offers, and sometimes just because they can. This "gather it all now and figure it out later" approach is exactly what has landed the US government's NSA into such hot water. But is that the best or only approach?

Cora Robinson, head of marketing at Arriva UK Bus, said in the Marketing Week article: "I know a lot of marketers who think the more customer data you have, the better commercial position you are in. From my perspective, the more engaged customer data I have, the better commercial position I am in. I would much prefer to capture 50 per cent of our customers' data if they are willing to give it to us, as opposed to pushing for 100 per cent of data from people who don't necessarily want to engage."

At Vision Critical, we agree. That's why we think the future of big data lies with what we call "communities of consent."

Communities of consent are insight communities in which people engage with customers and prospects through surveys and discussions. Companies actively ask customers for their opinions, and if they want to understand those opinions in the context of big data, they ask customers for explicit permission before merging those datasets.

This approach provides companies with incredibly rich data, but because that data is collected transparently, it avoids a collision with privacy concerns. There are three reasons why communities of consent will allow some companies to flourish while others flounder:

  • Being transparent with your clients and prospects is good for business. People buy from companies they trust.
  • Combining big data with survey data allows you to understand not just what, but why.
  • When public pressure leads to restricted access to big data, communities of consent will protected, because they already have true consent.

For more on consumer attitudes toward privacy and big data and the idea of communities of consent, download our free whitepaper Communities of Consent: Privacy, Permissions and Possibilities in the Wild West days of Big Data.

Transparency in the Age of Consent

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