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Levelling the playing field in the data economy

  • Jed Mole

    Jed Mole

Created at July 19th, 2019

Levelling the playing field in the data economy

From a survey published in 2018, we learnt that most people are happy with the amount of personal data they’re exchanging with organisations. They go so far as to believe that doing so is part of the modern economy. This is encouraging for marketers, almost all of whom need data. It’s vital that we have a data economy where all participants get opportunity and see value. The data economy is arguably one of the greatest opportunities of our generation. We need to get it right.

Due to GDPR and the like, data is a hotly debated topic, though overall it seems like we’re largely on track. Our research, however, does show there is still more to be done to demonstrate how the data economy works for everyone – to ensure the playing field is even. We have identified three areas to help make this happen – better communication, building trust and increasing control for consumers.

Communicating value

Personal data is vital for online businesses, and it should be recognised as such – especially as 73% of the people we surveyed want to exchange data for services. Viewing data as something that can be used for personal gain and benefit drives participation with the data economy. This is critical in developing the value exchange between industry and consumer.

Let’s take Spotify as an example of an app which actively demonstrates the value of sharing personal data. If you provide data on music you like (mainly by listening to it and searching for tracks), then Spotify actively delivers more music to you based on those preferences. It’s easy for the customer to see how the data share has benefitted them in this instance, as they’ve been provided with a more tailored service – and found music that they probably wouldn’t have just stumbled across.

Similarly, Heathrow’s app provides you with promotions and offers you can take advantage of at the airport, personalised because of the data you’ve shared, such as flight details. They’ll also give you advice on planning connections and a weather forecast for your destination. These benefits are relevant, useful and timely – a great way to demonstrate why data sharing works both ways.

By better demonstrating and explaining the value consumers get for the data they give, or, by offering better, more relevant, incentives, people will better understand the value they receive overall.

Building trust

Almost three-quarters of people rated their level of concerns about data privacy at between 7 and 10, with 10 being extremely concerned. This is despite over half of the same respondents expressing happiness with the amount of data they share and believing that sharing data is fundamental to the running of society. It’s clearly an issue that shouldn’t be ignored. This likely indicates that while there is a high level of attention being given to data and its use, people are still willing to share data with a website to get the utility and value they seek. This is the perfect opportunity to build trust by being transparent about how the data is being used and providing easy to understand, layered notices at the point the data is volunteered.

It is difficult to trust that which you don’t fully understand and data marketing companies, Acxiom included, are becoming more known to consumers. With so much data moving around today, it is too easy to assume what data they hold and use and typically, in reality, the data is non-sensitive (non ‘special category data’ in GDPR parlance), and it is used only for marketing.  For example, a prediction on how likely you are to buy a car based on how similar you are to other people who bought cars – whether you live in the similar place, same age bracket and have similar interests. If there is a match, then you’ll be placed into a group which is more likely to see an ad for new cars. This is nothing to do with surveillance, it is merely targeted marketing, based on data such as ‘likely owns a Ford Focus’ (something that is apparent in plain sight as you drive down the high street every day.) Being open and clear with consumers, having a two-way conversation will build rapport which, over time, will lead to more trust. Some people clearly aren’t concerned, but when they are, we need to be open about what’s being done.


Over half of consumers claimed both a lack of control over where companies were sharing their data and whether it was being used for the original permitted purposes. Two major challenges here are one, perceptions that data is out of control and is being shared without governance and two, how much people really pay attention to the terms and conditions when they share data. We need to be transparent with people, we need to make it simple to understand what they’re agreeing to and, we need to educate them on how data is used. Most important of all, we must assure people that when it comes to data, we won’t lose it and we won’t misuse it.

One practical step all organisations can take to help communicate that your company takes data management seriously, is to have a clear policy around data ethics. This sets the tone for everything around data privacy and data use to all your audiences inside and outside your organisation.

One of the biggest issues when dealing with data and the data economy is that it’s intangible – no one can touch, hear or feel data. As humans, we find it easiest to get used to things when we can physically experience something and feel, see or hear the benefits. When trains were first invented, passengers feared they’d suffocate if trains travelled over 20mph. But, when they saw themselves that this wasn’t the case, the trust came and they enjoyed the value trains brought. This isn’t possible with the data economy. We can extoll the value of more relevant marketing and the fact the data industry helps fund the free internet, but people can’t see it directly and therefore ignore it or are at least dubious. We must empathise with consumers but remain steadfast in our belief that data brings value, while giving people the access to and control of their data.

There is still work to be done to make data exchange more visible and valuable for consumers. If we level the data playing field by communicating to our customers more about how data sharing is safe and beneficial; build trust by being more transparent, enforcing ethics and adherence to regulations and, give consumers more control over their data’s storage and use, then we can make the data economy a better place.