Is Big Data the Scapegoat for Consumers and Businesses Alike?

In the wake of the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, data and personal privacy matters have become a real concern for consumers. When an organization like Facebook falls into trouble, big data is often blamed; but is big data actually at fault? When tech companies utilize and contract with third party data mining companies, aren’t these data collection firms doing exactly what they were designed to do? 

IBM markets its Watson as a way to get know more about consumers; however, when it does just that, it is perceived as an infringement of privacy. In lieu of data privacy and security violations, companies have become notorious for pointing the finger elsewhere. Like any other scapegoat, big data has become an easy way out – a chance for the company to side with and support the consumer.

Yet, many are long overdue in making changes that actually do protect and support the customer and now find themselves needing to earn back consumer trust. Companies looking to please their customers publicly agree that big data is the issue; but behind the scenes, they’re doing little or nothing to change how they interact with these organization. By pushing the blame to these data companies, they redirect the problem, holding their company and consumers as victims of something beyond their control.

For years, data mining has been used to help companies better understand their customers and market environment. Data mining is a means to offer insights from business-to-buyer or potential buyer. Before companies and resources like Facebook, Google and IBM’s Watson existed, customers knew very little about their personal data. More recently, the general public has begun to understand what data mining actually is and how it is used and become aware of the data trail they leave through their online activities.

Hundreds of articles have been written about data privacy and regulations to protect individuals’ data rights have been proposed – some even signed into law. With the passing of new legislation pertaining to data, customers are going as far as to file lawsuits against companies that may have been storing personal identifiable information against their knowledge or without proper consent.

State regulations have propelled data privacy interest, calling for what some believe might develop into national privacy law. Because of this, organizations are starting to take notice and have begun implementing policy changes to protect their organization from scrutiny. Businesses are taking a closer look at marketplace trends as consumers grow more aware of how their data is being used. Direct consumer-facing brands especially need to have appropriate security frameworks in place. Perhaps the issue among consumers is not the data collected but how it is presented back to them or shared with others.

Generally speaking, consumers like content and products that are tailored to them. Many customers don’t mind data collection, marketing retargeting or even promotional advertisements if they know that they are benefiting from them. We, as consumers and online users, often times willingly give up our information in exchange for free access and convenience; but have we thoroughly considered how that information is being used, brokered and shared? If we did, would we pay more attention to who and what we share online?

Many customers have expressed their unease when their data is incorrectly interpreted and relayed. They are irritated by irrelevant communications and become fearful when they lack trust in the organization behind the message. Is their sensitive information now in a databank with heightened risk for breach? When a breach or alarming infraction occurs, the customer, including prospective, has more concern.

The general public has become acquainted with the positive aspects of big data, to the point where they expect retargeted ads and customized communications. On the other hand, even when in agreement with the terms and conditions, the consumer is quick to blame big data.


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