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How Constrained Should Data Be?

  • Jed Mole

    Jed Mole

Created at July 11th, 2017

How Constrained Should Data Be?


How constrained should data use be?

It depends on who you ask. As we’ve explored in previous posts, consumer attitudes over personal data useage typically splits into three perspectives. Generally:

  • 54% of the population are pragmatists, meaning they are prepared to allow the use of data so long as it delivers value to them and is properly managed.
  • 22% are unconcerned, meaning they are relatively unconcerned with how their data is being used.
  • 24% are fundamentalists, meaning they are very suspicious of the use of their data, and want to see it more limited and regulated.

The “fundamentalists” here would severely restrict the use of data, meaning it would be equally likely for a 25-year-old interested in live music to receive a cruise holiday offer tailored for retired people, while a 70-year-old would receive a promotion for new music programming software. This would be a step back for targeting, one of the foundations of good marketing and good business. The implications of this would also likely kick off a further backlash from consumers, turning the clock back to the ’mountains of junk mail’ era. The concern shown by the public to cases of mis-targeting or fraudulent communication to vulnerable individuals demonstrates just how unacceptable this practice remains, and the risks inherent for marketing for a discipline should this occur.

By contrast, the ‘unconcerned’ may welcome a world where registering with an employment agency is publicly available for our bosses to see, and where details of what food and drink we consume is available to the healthcare and financial industries, so they may determine what restrictions to place on our care provisions or what premium to charge us for cover, as long as there is a tangible and visible benefit to the individual for this to happen. This is also a position that the majority would surely want to avoid.

Ideally best practice, pragmatic data use sits somewhere in the middle; allowing enough personalisation to offer value, while retaining security and privacy.

Yet that’s not always easy to achieve.


The Constraints of Freedom

The problem here sits with how much people really understand when it comes to the uses of data – and the implications of gaps in understanding.

Concern occurs as there is always a risk to using any data; the risk of it going wrong. Yet this needs to be balanced against the potential upsides – gaining customers likely to be interested in your offering, or making sure existing customers feel properly valued by a chosen business. Overall this balance is not particularly well understood and while it will be rightly debated for more sensitive uses of data, consumers should be encouraged to understand that marketing’s use of data is merely to do two things: deliver a more relevant, more personalised message that brands hope will result in the consumer spending money with them, and also to fund the provision of free services.

Consumers should be encouraged to understand that marketing’s use of data is merely to do two things: deliver a more relevant, more personalised message that brands hope will result in the consumer spending money with them, and also to fund the provision of free services.

Here, the argument to process personal information is relatively compelling and has even been recognised in the text of the GDPR itself which says that direct marketing may be a legitimate interest of the data controller – to be balanced against the privacy of the individual.


GDPR and Data Constraints

Another key point in the new GDPR legislation is that consumers will now have the right to object to profiling. Profiling is when data is combined and processed to provide, in this context, held beliefs and likelihoods around a consumer’s attributes, interests and similar; facets a marketer may use to help ensure they target the consumer with even more relevant messages. There is an important difference between profiling and direct marketing, the latter of which the consumer can already opt out of. The difference is, profiling is a step taken to understand, with an option to contact (direct marketing), something the consumer will now be allowed to block.

Currently the ePrivacy Directive generally requires prior consent before contacting someone with electronic marketing (e.g. email, SMS, cookie or device ID). There is a move in Brussels to replace this Directive with a Regulation to harmonise it with the GDPR. Acxiom’s perspective is that as the GDPR provides individuals with greater protection (e.g. a higher level of consent, greater transparency for legitimate interests) there is no need to have a second piece of legislation that governs the legal basis for electronic marketing. This will then mean for example that not all non-essential cookies will need prior consent provided the cookie setter can point to and justify another legal basis.


What Will This Mean For Data In Future?

Acxiom predicts that, given the nature of marketing, which relies on data far less sensitive than data used for purposes such as financial services, healthcare, or law and order, consumers will be less likely to exercise this opt out right.

Of course, what one person considers to be highly sensitive will vary greatly from what another thinks is fine – tying in to our three consumer perspectives on constraints above. However, when done effectively, marketing based on the use of personal data is seamless – people do not perceive messages as irrelevant or inappropriate, rather they see an offer, service or deal that is ideally suited to them. Exercising the opt out right on its own here, is likely to simply result in an increase in untargeted direct marketing communications, as marketers will not be able to ascertain what is relevant and what is not. Ultimately even if a consumer exercises their direct marketing opt out, this will not stop advertising (such as display and banner advertising in the digital world); advertising which is becoming increasingly targeted and relevant due to profiling – but would become completely random if opted out of.