Are You Ready for the Future of Personal Data Privacy?

Blog Post
February 01, 2017

Have you ever imagined that each of us, as individuals, would own our personal data and be able to sell it to marketers? We may be headed in that direction.

On January 1, the FCC rolled out new rules to protect broadband consumer privacy. According to the FCC, these rules “give broadband consumers increased choice, transparency, and security over their personal data so consumers are empowered to decide how data are used and shared by broadband providers.”

But what does this mean for marketers? And is this indicative of a larger trend regarding personal information? To find out, I interviewed Michael Becker, Managing Partner at mCordis and The Connected Marketer Institute.

These new FCC consumer privacy rules clearly affect internet providers like Comcast and Verizon, but how do they affect marketers at other companies?

First off, I fully believe we should stop using terms consumer and shopper when it comes to data. Those terms are misleading. In the era of the connected individual, we’re becoming more and more connected and associating more digital devices to our selves—devices that can be used to map behaviors and locations. It’s no longer just about being a shopper, a voter, etc. I’m an individual. Individuals need to give informed consent as to how their info will be used and in what context and what medium. So what does informed consent really mean? What does it really mean to opt in or give permission for use of our individual data?

What is a challenge at this point is that marketers are reacting to the technical challenges of gaining one’s consent. But at the end of the day, it really comes down to do we or do we not respect the digital sovereignty of the individual and the data that results from their devices? Do individuals have ownership or control of that data or not?

What do you believe?

I think it’s going to take us some time to evolve from permission-based models from the pre-mobile devices era. Informed consent and permission-based marketing presumes that an individual fully understands how his data will be used, that it will be properly secured, used with appropriate stewardship, will not be stored or shared with others, etc. With machine learning and AI driving how data is used and machines start working with third party players to aggregate data from multiple sources, we’re no longer just talking about the specific data set the individual is giving permission for. We’re also giving consent for the integration and manipulation of that data to drive insight and understanding of me as an individual that was never fully understood before.

In a world driven by big data and by machine learning, informed consent is somewhat of a myth. I can never be fully informed about how my data will be used if machines and algorithms are constantly creating derived data and evolving what they know about me. So this permission-based model will change. Instead, individuals’ data will be driven by informed access. I will be in control of my data through a personal information service, and I will dictate when and where and who has access to my data and for how long.

This is a massively new idea for most, but it was actually conceived in the 1940s.

With the evolution of technology and social change, it is finally coming to forefront.

What is the implication for marketers?

Modern practices of targeting and retargeting will be significantly affected. We currently have the ability to do things like map a profile of an individual across devices and track an individual as his device interacts with Wi-Fi or bluetooth or other proximity channels. But it’s possible that information like device IDs and IP addresses will become personally identifiable info, making these techniques something individuals have to give permission for.

How do you see marketers overcoming these new challenges?

I see marketers going over the top of the current intermediary channels through which they connect with individuals. Marketers will have direct access to individuals and develop relationships at scale—with the individual in control of the data. Individuals will enable and dictate their terms themselves through information intermediaries. Kenneth Laudon floated this idea back in 1996, and others have followed, predicting that companies will act as agents representing individuals programmatically to the market in exchange for their data. Businesses will be able to interact at scale—on the individual’s terms, and the individual will be compensated for the use of his data. This is called the Personal Information Economy.

The overriding principle is that marketers need to start thinking about the idea that we as an industry need to learn to create value for and with the individual, not from them. The majority of interactions today are about creating value from the customer, effectively turning them into the product. Instead, we’re going to need to be of service to them so that they will want to share their data with us.

What should marketers do now if they want to be ahead of this transition?

They should be actively participating in emerging bodies looking to consider and address the issue, such as The Connected Marketer Institute, Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium, World Economic Forum, Maghreb Economic Forum, etc.

They should also be implementing and developing martech stacks that enable the understanding and prediction of individual needs. They should be undertaking journey mapping exercises, not for sake of the exercise but with the conscious intent that the outcomes will lead to the transformation of how they go about delivering value to their customers.

Finally, they need to know that if they collect data, they should have a real reason for it, know exactly how they’re going to use it, and have a clear policy on how long they’re going to keep it and how they’re going to protect it. As you collect data, you’re also collecting liability for the stewardship of that data—which is going to continue to increase in value.

Do these FCC privacy rules go far enough, considering the future you predict with the Personal Information Economy?

I’m thrilled by the FCC’s recognition of the value of an individual’s personal information. The challenge with any regulation is that it lags behind the evolution of technology and the speed of innovation. There is, however, so much more to come. These FCC rules are just tip of the iceberg. In May 2018, European GDPR regulations come into play. These regulations are much stricter and more significant for our industry, stating that personal information is an asset and owned by the individual. We’ll continue to see regulation attempt to keep pace with the technological and social changes.