Identifying What People Do and Where They Are through Data

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Today I read three articles that described how marketers are using big data to locate and identify consumers. From a marketer’s standpoint, it helps them reach targeted audience who are likely purchase products or services from them. This results in less waste, because marketing costs will be concentrated on people who will be profitable for them, instead of spending them on people who are not likely going to be their consumers anyway.

From a consumer’s point of view, things look a bit different. First, some consumers may like it because they get relevant information through the form of ads and content. However, a growing concern revolves around data privacy because marketers now possess the ability to gather personal information about consumers and sell them to other companies (ie. a  data company can sell lists containing information of people that fit a certain criteria as defined by the buying company). If companies can track every behavior (what we purchased, where we were, what we’re doing, etc), where’s do we draw the line and claim it’s bordering espionage?

I think in the near future some guidelines will be implemented on best practices in handling consumer data, as well as laying out ownership rights to the data consumers create. Some companies claim they are doing it the “right” way by assigning numerical IDs to individuals so they cannot be identified through personal information. User ID 9w08q5w6 is less personal and less identifiable than User John Smith in Brooklyn, NY. The issue with this approach is that if the data company assigns these numbers, they still have the means to link it back to the person, and if they use a third party company to eliminate this issue, they are only bringing up another because another party who has access to the data is involved in the mix.

What’s a marketer to do? Following guidelines set forth by organizations (such as this), and some companies have created and are sharing their own data policies to forge trust with consumers. As a marketer, it is imperative to follow where the industry is going, and in the meantime, specifying certain standards to follow when dealing with consumer data, whether owned (customer relationship management databases) or acquired (bought form data brokers).

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