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The revelations that the US National Security Agency is gathering data on millions of people from many of the world’s largest online and technology companies has heightened awareness of just how much information on our actions is being collected and manipulated. And people are not comfortable with that. 

A study we conducted in conjunction with Queen’s University Surveillance Studies Centre found that over eight out of ten Americans, Canadians and Britons were opposed to private companies using information from their social media sites, their internet searches, their emails and their website visits. This, of course, happens all the time: it’s no accident the online ads you see uncannily match your recent searches and website visits.

But people are not just opposed to commercial use of their data. They also are uncomfortable with court-permitted use by government agencies. Our research found that a majority of people in the US, UK and Canada oppose police or intelligence agencies monitoring their online activities—even with a court order. 

No wonder the story of the NSA collaborating with the biggest names of the internet to monitor millions of people has grabbed headlines around the world. Right now, big data is like the Wild West. There are few rules and lots of companies playing fast and loose with people’s data. But if people are opposed to this, how long will this freewheeling environment last? 

As terms like “metadata” penetrate the mainstream consciousness, it is likely there will be increasing public pressure to regulate and restrict access to people’s “big data.” And that’s a scary thought for many companies—companies that currently rely on unfettered access to people’s information.

So what’s in store for the future of big data? We think it lies with what we call “communities of consent.” Here are four reasons why:

  1. When public pressure leads to restricted access to big data, communities of consent will not be affected because community members have given permission for you to use their data. For example, when people join insight communities, they do so because they want to make sure their voice is heard. What if companies asked people for permission to access their big data? Many Vision Critical clients already do.  
  2. By combining big data with survey data, it is possible to not just measure what people are doing. Communities of consent also engage consumers to understand why they do what they do.
  3. Being transparent with your clients and prospects is good for business. People buy from companies they trust. Explaining to people that you want to better understand them, and their needs and desires helps you build that trust. 
  4. Communities of consent allow companies to close the feedback loop. You’re not simply using people’s data: you’re also letting them know how their feedback is influencing your business decisions.

As you can see, communities of consent allow companies to connect the “what” and the “why” of big data while building trust and relationship with consumers. The first step in truly understanding your customers is to invite them into the conversation.

If your company uses any form of big data, learn more by downloading our free whitepaper Communities of Consent: Privacy, Permissions and Possibilities in the Wild West days of Big Data

A Turning Point in Data Collection

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