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The Burner Phenomenon: Will covid-19 change our relationship with data?

  • Jed Mole

    Jed Mole

Created at July 24th, 2020

The Burner Phenomenon: Will covid-19 change our relationship with data?

In response to COVID-19, around the world, many ‘non-essential’ businesses have had to close down offices, shops and services. For most, things won’t be the same; it is likely that they will have to adjust to ‘the new normal’, including finding new ways of reaching customers which will now become a necessity. As we’ve seen with the increasing demand for online delivery services, businesses that don’t adapt quickly will suffer as customer shopping habits change, and potentially the brands they engage with.  

With social distancing strategies likely to remain for some time, businesses need to take bold steps, to adapt to newly formed customer habits. It won’t be easy. Businesses must be ready for the demands of individuals, whilst ensuring that they can navigate the pitfalls of rapidly increasing their online presence. Being able to utilise data, will rely on a high level of trust from individuals, a factor our new Data Duping report suggests will be hard won.

When speaking to people around the world*, many say they often provide organisations with false information online. In our report, we’ve termed this ‘The Burner Phenomenon’. Levels of duping differed across countries: we found that in Germany, 40% of people said they have provided false information online, in the UK this percentage dropped to 23% and in the US it further dropped to 18%.

These behaviours are ones that we all recognise, such as providing an email address, for an account  we know we never check, when purchasing something online, or even providing incorrect dates of birth, contact information and information about hobbies and leisure activities. Those who provide false data of this kind, say they do so to prevent hacking and to stop businesses from sharing their real data. These attitudes are unlikely to shift, without real changes in the consumer-brand relationship, which may hinder many businesses’ attempts to build a successful online model for the ‘new normal’.

However, done well, businesses can use this time to build consumer trust and ensure they are not the companies who are being provided with false data online, or ignored. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the benefits of providing good, truthful data are apparent. Better data should mean better outcomes for people as well as brands and our report provides a number of recommendations to help businesses and individuals to develop trust in the data-enabled world.

Increase transparency

Being able to see how data benefits both the individual and businesses is crucial in establishing and ensuring trust. The current crisis has provided an opportunity for businesses to clearly demonstrate how providing accurate data benefits individuals. Where this has been particularly apparent is when businesses have been able to gather accurate information about individual shopping habits, adapt their supply chains, and easily point consumers to the thing they really need, and even to prioritise services to vulnerable groups.

However, these are just the first positive signs, and to enable these positive data practices to continue throughout and following the current pandemic, businesses need to ensure they continue to act in the right way when it comes to data. Being transparent about why they are collecting data, how it is being stored and what benefit this brings to customers is key.

Be a leader

There are already some clear winners when it comes to maintaining and even boosting reputations in light of COVID-19. Some brands such as Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and others ensuring the elderly and vulnerable have priority at certain hours, are seeing the opportunity to demonstrate that they are ethical companies who can be trusted to do the right thing and who are putting people first. Although the focus has initially been on the treatment of staff, customers and support for local communities and charities, ethical data practices always need to be undertaken in the background.

Any organisation who loses or misuses customer data during this period is likely to experience a greater than usual blow to their reputation. Conversely, those companies that use data for innovative purposes, which really benefit society and individuals, could see a real upswing in brand perception, but only if they follow an ethical path.

Individual responsibility

Finally, addressing the issue of data duping can’t just be the responsibility of the brand. Individuals need to think about why they trust certain organisations over others. As online interactions with brands increase, individuals need to consider whether their own actions around data might be preventing them from getting many of the benefits which the online world has to offer.

If organisations and individuals use this time to consider how they interact with one another in the digital world, take the necessary steps to ensure that their data practices are in order and use data for good, innovative purposes that drive tangible benefits, the future of data can be dramatically changed. Now, more than ever, there is a clear and obvious need for providing accurate data, for the benefit of all.

* Censuswide survey of 3,000 individuals in the U.S., the UK and Germany, as well as in-depth interviews with individuals across all three countries and China.