“If You’re Not Paying For It, You’re The Product . . . ”
If you have worked in or around tech for the last decade, you have heard — or likely spoken — this irreverent remark about the data economy. While critics are all too willing to give this judgment on the use of consumer data in modern business, there are notably few alternatives or solutions mentioned. But the most concerning part of this saying is the seeming inevitability of data collection, aggregation, and monetization. Either participate or don’t. No other mechanisms exist for people beyond what appears to be a binary choice. And even choice is an illusion in some cases. On April 12, 2019, the Information Commissioner’s Office fined Bounty UK Limited for illegally sharing personal data belonging to 14 million people. Bounty is a pregnancy and parenting club that was acting as a data broker and selling information on new parents . . . and their newborn children . . . with Equifax and other companies. With four kids, I think I’m qualified to say that the newborns struggle the most when using the mouse to click on that pesky opt-in button . . .
The data economy leads to revenue growth and enhanced customer experiences, and most of us like it when companies tailor to us. Many business models are based around selling consumer data as a “product.” With the apparent gold mine of consumer data that organizations possess, CISOs and CDOs alike will ask: How can we use our data responsibly? No one wants their poor data governance practices to be the reason why they end up as a headline or a parable about the dangers of privacy violations. Corporate scandal causes your firm to be in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, and the impacts can be long-lasting.
Misuse of customer data will cause existing customers to lose trust, leading to long-term brand erosion and an unwillingness to engage with you again. That’s why we are predicting that a new industry will emerge as a result of widespread corporate surveillance: the anti-surveillance economy. Whether it’s a browser like Brave that attempts to shift from an advertising-led revenue model for the internet, a non-advertising-based search engine like DuckDuckGo, a VPN service that allows us to avoid ISPs spying on us, or eyewear that confuses facial recognition algorithms, a market opportunity exists for companies with products and services that allow us to avoid giving up our privacy.
In our new report, “Avoid Corporate Scandal Caused By The Surveillance Economy,” we define the surveillance economy and highlight some key practices to promote customer trust and avoid disaster. All organizations that hope to make money off their consumer data, while retaining trust and reputation, should follow the guidance in this new research. For innovators looking at new markets that want to empower consumers, the anti-surveillance economy is waiting for you.
(Written with Elsa Pikulik, senior research associate at Forrester)