Published: Monday November 10, 2014


This week, The Guardian ran an article with the headline: 'Being open with users about why their data matters to us'.  We urge you all to take the time to read it and learn from the Guardian's transparent attitudes to data. People are more clued up on the way there is being used than ever before and if brands want to maintain trust with their customers, transparency is a must. 

We must face up to the reality of the situation - the big data age is bringing benefits for businesses, but it's also eroding the trust of consumers. Research revealed by Orange earlier this year found that 82 percent of consumers feel they have little power to control the way their personal data is used by organisations [1]. 

For anyone doubting this reality, Madhumita Venkataramanan's blog 'My identity for sale' in Wired last week proves this point. The blog is an 8-page expose on how the writer feels everyone from the NHS to the CIA is abusing her personal data. 

While those of us working with data on a regular basis will not be too surprised by some of the information or uses of data 'exposed' in the blog, the fact that people are finding this information out from Wired and not the companies that are using or selling the data is what is damaging the trust. 

What actually happens if people become disillusioned with how their data is being used? Research suggests 86 percent of consumers are now actually taking steps to remove or mask their digital footprints including providing bogus emails or outdated mobiles [2].  This could be catastrophic for the many brands whose value is built on the data they hold. 

We also know how important trust is in encouraging repeat custom and if customers don't trust how a brand is using their data, they won't share it or will take steps to mask it. We're getting to a stage where we believe that trust is becoming a key differentiator for brands.    

Organisations need to be one step ahead in this trend. It's no good waiting until your use of data is brought into question, or a data leakage exposes your business as collecting data that you don't need. By that point, it'll be too late. If Facebook Messenger was open from the start about its use of data and the benefits it brings users, articles like this one, criticising its 'sneaky' use of data wouldn't have been written in the first place.

The Guardian has exactly the right strategy in being open about its intentions with its customers' data before it even starts to use it. We'd love to see other companies following its lead and engaging with customers around the use of their data. If data is the currency in the digital economy, then trust is a must.

This blog has been featured by Reuters. To read more, click here. 


[1] Orange, 'Future of Digital Trust Report'

[2] http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Anonymity-online.aspx