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You’d have to be living in a cabin in the woods without Internet not to have heard about the furor surrounding Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook user data. It put data-driven marketers in the hot seat and drew attention to how market researchers mine the data of individuals from online platforms.

But while those in the customer intelligence game need to be careful about how they store and use consumer data they collect, especially with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into full force, the real lesson here is to make sure you read the room: You can still mine customer data, but you need to make sure you are sensitive to the concerns of customers and stay compliant with regulatory frameworks.

In a recent Vision Critical webinar, Alexandra Samuel, a technology writer, researcher and speaker, put the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal in context for customer intelligence professionals who find themselves doing a balancing act in the new normal of consumer privacy. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, leaders in technology and customer intelligence have been looking to Alex for guidance. To date, her insight on Cambridge Analytica have appeared on The Verge, The Globe and Mail and JSTOR Daily.

Data mining is not wrong

The lesson from the Cambridge Analytica scandal is not the collecting customer data is bad. Rather, Alex said insight professionals should see it as an opportunity to reassert leadership within the organization around how data is collected and used.

"We can be the experts within the organization on what are the best practices. We can be the experts in the organization in what kinds of data is actually useful to collect."

Cambridge Analytica is just the beginning

Alex said we are in a very different world of data collection because customers are newly aware of how their data is being collected and used. The implications are not just limited to a single company such as Cambridge Analytica or just political advertising.

"We're going to have consumers who now have much more awareness of the way the data can be used and who are going to start asking us hard questions about what we know about them, how we know it and how we're using that knowledge."

Data hoarding is not the answer

There’s an abundance of customer data today, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming a “data glutton.” Alex said many companies try to get as much data as possible, even though they don’t have the capacity to analyze it all. She said companies put themselves at risk if they’re not more intentional about what they collect.

"Every piece of data you collect, particularly if you're collecting it in a way that your customers are not particularly aware of, is essentially a liability that exposes you to the risk of public backlash."

Customers want—and deserve—better

A permission-based approach is more transparent and more beneficial to both customers and companies. Alex said the insight process needs to have a mutual exchange of value back to the participant, and there should be some level of ongoing engagement and communication that makes it clear what the customers data is going to be used for, when and for how long.

"The beauty of having some kind of ongoing feedback structure is so that your customers understand that what you know about them is a function of what they've told you, or what they've agreed to share with you, and not some kind of big brother creeping over their shoulder."

Regulations like GDPR notwithstanding, recent research from Vision Critical makes the case for why transparency with customers around how you use their data is a good idea. The report found that 66% of consumers would feel more comfortable sharing their personal information if brands proactively told them how it would be used. Our study also suggests that along with more transparency, consumers expect that sharing their personal information will add value to their overall experience as a customer. Forty-one percent of respondents are willing to share personal information to get more personalized service, offers and for faster conflict resolution.

It's about finding balance

Customer intelligence professionals should consider the Cambridge Analytica scandal a wake-up call to think more carefully how they mine and use customer data through their own tools or large online platforms.

But while it’s important to consider the heightened sensitivity of consumers about how their data is being used, that doesn’t mean you have to put a halt to your insight activities. Watch our on-demand webinar and learn how you can strike the right balance.

A Turning Point in Data Collection

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Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria was the former Content Marketing Manager and was responsible for Vision Critical's blog and social media marketing program. Before joining Vision Critical's global marketing team, Kelvin worked at Dunn PR, a Vancouver-based public relations firm. His experience includes working with lifestyle, real estate, and non-profit clients to develop social media marketing and PR strategies. Kelvin has a Bachelor of Business Administration from SFU's Beedie School of Business.
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