Data … Are you giving away too much of a good thing?

Data – it’s a minefield, and nearly 6 months on from the GDPR becoming law, today it’s even more so. Do most people, including those of us immersed in the technology sector, think consciously about how much data we’re sharing each day? We’re constantly being asked on practically every website we visit now to consent to cookies, and let’s face it, I bet we’re all clicking ‘Accept’ without really knowing what we’re consenting to. Yup. Knowingly or unknowingly, we’re allowing an almost unsettling insight into our behaviour and mobile takes this behavioural data collection to a whole new level. But is it really all bad, do we need to be unsettled? Jeremy Saul, Head of Mobile for Data Locator Group, joins us to consider what’s changed with data collection, the use of it and our new norm of giving our approval (or declining) it without filling in one character on any form or writing any signatures.

The Data Journey

We’re literally surrounded and immersed in data every day. In the last few years we have been bombarded with projects leveraging Big Data, Hadoop, Casandra and Map-Reduce and we’ve seen considerable and concerted efforts focused on data protection and privacy. It’s not rocket science; data has been and remains a valuable asset.

As you might imagine working for Data Locator, Jeremy comes with a rich career history of data collection and analytics and has seen the journey that data has taken. “We’ve come from an industry where it used to be relatively easy to collect data via forms. Consumers were used to the process and accepting of filling in a form and sending it back”. But so much has changed over the last 20 years and this process has been surpassed by technology and now completely unviable. The logistics of storing addresses (correct, up-to-date addresses), creating forms (that will mostly be binned) and mailing out the forms (expecting them to be returned).

When we moved online, forms transitioned with relative ease and though delivered through a different medium were largely unchanged in their request for information. We took to this change with equal ease and become experts, though annoyed if we still needed to print, sign and physically send back, as opposed to automatically submitting online or emailing.

But mobile is where it has all changed, and changed so significantly it’s even changed the way the business of data collection works. The chance of getting a view of people’s behaviour is very nearly within our grasp. But as Jeremy points out “gathering this from one data source is no longer good enough. In fact many of the largest traditional collectors of data have completely changed their business models to now purchase in and rely upon third parties to provide the information. Their focus is now on being data aggregators”.

Behaviour driven data

Mobile data provides incredible insight into user behaviour, in real time. For the first time ever data is being collected throughout the day, all day and night. With an estimated 1 million connected beacons throughout the world already and predictions this number will surpass 400 million between now and 2020 our activities are certainly on the grid, if we are online. Activity trackers, a new addiction for some of us, know pretty much everything we do from walking, running, cycling, how many floors we’ve climbed, how many calories we’ve burned and if in amongst all this we got any sleep. They also nudge us every time we’ve sat sedentary for any period of time. Incredibly personal information shared willingly by many of us. Let’s not forget we also share information about who we like, who we are talking to, what we are buying (or seeking to buy), which organisations and groups we affiliate with, teams we support and so on.

If someone asked you in a form or survey for all this information would you provide it? We suspect not. Most of us won’t remember or pay much attention to ticking the T&Cs box when installing apps for the first time and on-boarding has an incredible role to play to successfully guide users into apps and subtly point them in the direction of how to use the app and add data to make it work. The collection of the data is very discreet, some might feel underhanded, though the use of it is often not discreet, as we are targeted with advertisements of products we have been browsing, sites we have been to or complementary products to those we have been looking at. Some people find this freaky, others are impressed. Polling both the Data Locator and Waracle offices we found there was a split down the middle in terms of how people reacted to it. Many citing their annoyance and acknowledging their refusal to provide location information when prompted. But as Jeremy points out “if you were asked for location data and refused to supply, surely the marketing you get back, which you will get regardless, will be even more annoying and irrelevant”. Is there an argument that suggests you may as well get more targeted information by providing the details?

Underhanded or delivering value?

It’s perhaps understandable that some people find the advert targeting and re-marketing annoying, though we found neither of us do. Blatant advertising is one thing but reminders, and recommendations based on your actual activity (place, time, likes) are proving highly successful in other arenas. Yet again we use the example of Amazon, in particular the ‘one-click’ purchase and product suggestions. Jeremy’s example explains it perfectly. When faced with twelve stocking filler gifts to purchase (urgently as it was left too late) he ventured onto Amazon. Having found the first couple he was then presented with other similar products and products other people had purchased. Within record time his panic was replaced with relief as he’d purchased all 12 products and they were on route. Had Jeremy, or any of us for that matter been asked all the questions required to complete this purchase in a form would we have agreed? Were we buying gifts? Who for? How many gifts? How much would we want to spend? For what occasion? When did we need them and did we want recommendations? I suspect most of us would have said “uhhh no thank you”.

I can guarantee I would have provided a loud and clear refusal to provide information to FitBit and MyFitnessPal if I had been faced with a form asking – my age, my weight, what I have eaten, how much (or little) I had exercised, how much did I sleep and what friends I am willing to expose this information to or even worse would I share it with a personal trainer. However I provide all this information and have by my actions agreed to provide it. As the addiction has grown I’ve added Fitbit scales to the mix and now have ‘by my actions’ given my permission for this information to be collected. But is it all a bad thing? Feels like the weight data is bad on most days but I get amazing service, just like Jeremy does from Amazon. I like the information, the keeping me on track, the competing with my friends and family. I’m happy to provide the information and have I guess accepted this in return for the service it provides me.

The Value Equation

Our agreement is that if the give and take is valuable to each party does it matter how the information is gathered and used? And this is where we ended up; there is a difference between opting in for a service versus opting in for advertising. It’s one thing to give permission through your actions to sign up to a service, to let your location form the basis for what you hope is more relevant and timely communication versus receiving information that is irrelevant at best, intrusive at worst. For example ‘checking in’ via Facebook to share (show-off) with your friends where you were travelling to or what amazing event you were at seems to be very acceptable. Logging into another service using your Facebook log-in to then have Facebook announce your actions to the community, without your permission, goes just a step too far. There is a sense of value in the former and untargeted ‘stepping over the line’ communication in the latter.

Where next?

Where does data go next in terms of enriching our lives and our acceptance of key data being gathered as we go about our daily life? As many key influencers in tech have suggested, cars represent an obvious next step in the progress of mobile, IoT and data collection … Tesla is the obvious reference here. But Tesla asides, for us mere mortals, actions such as being able to pre-set your journey in your GPS before you get in the car, set the temperature, voice activation, weather and traffic information or performance recommendations, seems easily achievable and is already happening. By opting in to provide information about your journey, your preferences, the way you drive, and where you drive, it’s not hard to imagine how that could be used to deliver very specific servicing, journey information, part recommendations and of course offers (not to mention tracking results on your insurance policy remains to be seen).

On another tact, we have quite in-depth experience at Waracle within the digital health arena and see incredible opportunities for life-changing breakthroughs with the use, collection and sharing of mobile, wearable and IoT data. Digital health is the convergence of the digital and genomic revolutions with health, healthcare, living, and society. Imagine the sharing of data between patients, research specialists, physicians, pharmacists (the list is endless) and of course, carer’s. Real time information reporting symptom changes, stress levels based on changes detected in the skin, blood pressure, heart beats, allergen levels, concussion detection or even something as obvious as medication alerts, treatment schedules and test results. Opting in for digital health seems obvious, even though you are sharing your most confidential and personal data.

Opting in or Out

I realise we haven’t touched on data protection and individual privacy, and everything GDPR threw into the mix – we are however very aware of all it involves. We’ve purposely avoided it in this blog as so many others are focused on upholding all it entails. In a relatively short space of time, the approach to data collection has changed dramatically and now offers a real opportunity to create and target services that add as much value for the user as the data itself offers to the collector. With a little give and take we expect huge breakthroughs will be made in all aspects of our daily lives – entertainment, education, commuting, health and so many other things we’ve not mentioned. A true value equation must be at the heart of any new or re-engineered mobile, wearable and IoT endeavours.

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