Our Digital Selves: Living Without the ‘Big 5’ — And 7,000 Others

There, once again, is the age-old privacy paradox, which predates our digital selves. Do we — individually, as a society, as a matter of policy — understand the data-for-value exchange that is inherent not just on the commercial Internet, but in practically every business arrangement we have?

our digital selves
Chet Dalzell snapped this photo with his smartphone’s camera. (Curses!) | Credit: Chet Dalzell

During the past couple of weeks, I’ve been enjoying a thorough attempt by one Gizmodo editor, Kashmir Hill, to live life one week at a time without the titled “Big 5” — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft — and then to do so all at once.

“It was hell,” she reported.

Well, that statement alone could be interpreted as “unpleasant” or “impossible” or “really inconvenient” or “unenjoyable, or maybe all of the above. Hill’s attempts to quit cold turkey appeared to be very earnest and objectively pursued, though her editorial approach is not without a point of view: “The tech giants, while troubling in their accumulation of data, power and societal control, do offer services that make our lives a hell of a lot easier.”

Do I feel powerless with no control? I do not, but that’s a personal choice.

There, once again, is the age-old privacy paradox, which predates our digital selves. Do we — individually, as a society, as a matter of policy — understand the data-for-value exchange that is inherent not just on the commercial Internet, but in practically every business arrangement we have?

To shut off all data flows might be thought of as an exercise of a Luddite. Every individual can choose to live life this way, at least in some measure. Or perhaps it’s an exercise of being jaded: Among us, there are those who believe social media’s popular “10-year challenge” is a not-so-secret plot to update everyone’s likeness for facial recognition software.

Take a Regular Digital Break, Please

I, too, pursue and relish a weekend where I put my devices away, and go off the digital grid for hours or even one day at a time. A walk in the woods, or park, or beach, with no device in reach — and with just my thoughts – is an empowering and recharging experience (for me). It can drive my friends and family nuts, wondering where I am — but they’re used to it by this time.

Mom:

“You didn’t play ‘Words with Friends’ with me yesterday. Is everything OK?”

On the other hand, every day, I observe fellow citizens who seem unable to navigate a sidewalk, or ride an elevator, or even sit at a bar or restaurant, without having their heads down in smartphones. Kudos to them for processing digital information constantly … I think. I certainly can’t do that.

Yet to have a bias — either in practice or in policy — that blocks responsible data flows, truly is an exercise in masochism. As participants in the marketing data supply chain, we have ethical and some legal obligations to be capable stewards of data. We have associations, self-regulatory codes, and regulators that teach and tell us what to do.

Beyond the Big 5, we also have thousands of companies in the adtech/martech ecosystem — at last count, nearly 7,000. Any could be the next “big thing,” as investment flows seem to indicate.

Image of Ad Tech - Mar Tech Breadth

Slide Source: “Outlook For Data Driven Marketing: First Look 2019,” The Winterberry Group, 2019.

On top of these, we have brands and agencies using information, responsibly, to attract (discover), create (convert) and retain (serve) customers. This is not evil. This is innovation — and we shouldn’t fault a data-flow framework that facilitates commerce, consumer choice and diversity of content. We should scrutinize it for harmful data usage — and regulate the harm.

In short, every information use should be vetted. Wisdom, rather than fear, must be our starting point in such examination, with a healthy dose of data reverence. In advertising, we can (and must) have both consumer privacy protection and digital innovation. Achieving such dual, laudable outcomes, however, cannot be achieved if we are required to just shut down.

 

 

Take Command of Marketing Data Governance—Because We Have To

The emergence of “big data” as an enterprise concern for many businesses and organizations is, as with most trends, both an opportunity and a concern. I recently was involved in reviewing new and recent Aberdeen Research on “Big Data”—how it is defined, how it is changing information volume (astounding in quantity), variety (both structured and unstructured, with tremendous pressure to integrate and make sense of it), and velocity (pushing the insight, analytics and business rules that flow from such data to lines of business that can best profit from it).

The emergence of “big data” as an enterprise concern for many businesses and organizations is, as with most trends, both an opportunity and a concern.

I recently was involved in reviewing new and recent Aberdeen Research on “Big Data”—how it is defined, how it is changing information volume (astounding in quantity), variety (both structured and unstructured, with tremendous pressure to integrate and make sense of it), and velocity (pushing the insight, analytics and business rules that flow from such data to lines of business that can best profit from it). An infographic that captures some of this research is now posted at Mason Zimbler, a Harte-Hanks Company, which created the visual presentation.

Alongside this current fascination and business trend, perhaps it’s not surprising that members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, also are posing questions at the marketing business as to how we collect, buy/sell, rent and exchange data about consumers online and offline, and if there is adequate notice and choice in the process. In the rush to capitalize on Big Data, we need to ensure that we’re collecting and using marketing data for marketing purposes only, and doing so in a manner that is respectful of fair information practices principles and ultimately serves the end-customer, be it consumer or business individual or enterprise. [See Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA: http://markey.house.gov/content/letters-major-data-brokers.]

All too often, privacy adherence is considered a legal matter, or an information technology matter—but I maintain that while these two business areas are important in respecting consumer privacy, it is marketers who have the most to gain (and lose) by smart (or insensitive) information practices. Data is our currency, and we must treat data (our customers as data subjects) as our primary asset to protect. Our method of marketing is in the balance. One or two major privacy mishaps can spoil it for everyone.

Of course, marketing data governance is far more than privacy compliance. Data quality, data integrity, data security, data integration, data validation and data flows within an enterprise all, too, are part of marketing data’s customer intelligence equation. It is in this spirit that the Direct Marketing Association recently introduced its newest certification program for professionals: “The Institute for Marketing Data Governance and Certification,” taught by marketing veteran Peg Kuman, who is vice chair at Relevate Group. The three-day course, which has launched on a two-year, multiple-city tour, is indispensable in understanding how multiple channels, multiple data sources and platforms, customer expectations and business objectives combine to command better understanding, tools and processes for data handling for smart integrated marketing. Forthcoming course dates and registrations are available here: http://www.dmaeducation.org/dm-essentials/marketing_data_governance.php

For three days last month in New York, approximately two dozen professionals from large and small enterprises, both commercial and nonprofit, attended the first seminar. I, too, attended. There were representatives from marketing, public relations, analytics, legal, IT and fundraising, representing brands, agencies and service providers. This group was engaged—providing examples, asking questions and reporting experiences as the curriculum moved along. (For those who don’t know Peg—a former client of mine—she is quite the facilitator.)

Alongside a workbook, I took home some great handouts, too:

  • A sample security policy; a sample information security vulnerability assessment;
  • A security due diligence questionnaire;
  • A sample vendor risk management program vendor questionnaire;
  • The latest copy of the DMA Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice (recently updated with new email append guidelines, by the way) and a bevy of news articles that captures the media’s and public policymakers’ current attention on consumer data in America.

The meat of the course tackled, among other topics:

  • Categorizing data and assigning priority and sensitivity (personally identifiable information, sensitive data and other categories);
  • Mapping data flows and interactions with customers; enhancing data with appended information, and ensuring its use for marketing only;
  • Having a data quality strategy as part of a data strategy;
  • Calculating return on data investment;
  • The emergence of digital, mobile and social data platforms, and how these present both structured and unstructured data collection and insight analysis challenges;
  • Assigning data “ownership”;
  • Calculating and assigning risk regarding security;
  • Monitoring security, investigating potential incidents of a breach, and handling a response to a breach were it to occur (using recent breach response examples of LinkedIn and Epsilon); as well as
  • Laws, ethics and best practices for all of these areas.

One of my concerns is the importation of European-style privacy protection in America, and current fascination with such protections by U.S. regulators and elected officials. That is worth another blog post in itself, but I can assure you that we need to educate politicians about the superiority of self and peer regulation where no consumer harm exists.

Thank you, DMA. Marketing data does not harm. It only creates consumer choice, commerce, jobs and (tax) revenue—and pays for the Internet and other media, too—and it is ridiculous to even entertain government-knows-better regulation of such information through a potential omnibus law in America, or other notions such as a government-mandated “privacy by design” requirement in marketing innovations. (On the other hand, I’m more than happy to see laws pass that protect Americans from potential government abuse of private sector marketing data—Big Brother should not be getting access to marketing data for non-marketing purposes, unless there is a demonstrable greater public good, where subpoenas are served and heard.) Privacy by design is smart business, but only when left to the innovators, not the policymakers.

Which brings me to close—and if you’re still reading this, I congratulate myself for not chasing you away. Big Data (which can incorporate far more than marketing data) goes hand-in-hand with marketing data governance. Whether a Big Data user or not, we all use marketing data everyday as our currency. Protect it. Respect it. Serve it. Govern it. So we can use it.