sales | July 14, 2013

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You: Douglas Stephens On Privacy & Big Data

When it comes to our online activities, have we struck a Faustian bargain that delivers us convenience in exchange for our privacy? Douglas Stephens, a sales speaker and author of The Retail Revival, appeared on a Google Hangout to discuss the future of big data and what it means for consumers. "Everybody agrees that we want a degree of privacy, they want a degree of protection of their data," Stephens says, "but the fact of the matter is they're using tools each day without an understanding of how those tools disrupt or invade that privacy."

For example, he cites a recent PEW survey that found 9/10 consumers were happy with the search engine they were using (Bing, Google, etc.). However, that number dropped markedly when the users were told how their data that was being compiled while on the search engine was being mined and used. Here lies the paradox: We want access to services like Facebook and Amazon, but we don't want them to be using our data or to be spied on. "A lot of consumers are getting very creeped at the idea that they search for something one day and then two days later, lo and behold there's that same item that they were searching for popping up on every web page," he adds. The Edward Snowden case, he also says, further shines a light on how, and how much of, our data is being used by companies.

What does all this mean for the future of e-commerce? Stephens explains that there are both obstacles and opportunities that arise from the push-pull of privacy versus data collection. On the one hand, companies could benefit from promoting themselves as doing the same tasks as a competitor, but without compromising user's privacy. Further, there may one day exist a market for companies to provide privacy-protection services. There has to be a balance, Stephens explains, between the surveillance measures used by marketers and the degree of privacy consumers have when engaging with a brand online. "Ultimately, there needs to be a consumer-facing set of standards that are easily understood and easily identifiable," he concludes. The potential benefits for consumers and marketers from big data are huge, Stephens says. But, we can't trample consumer trust in the process of mining that data—that's just "bad business."


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science | July 11, 2013