Which?, the consumer magazine, has produced a report, the title of which, Control, Alt or Delete fails to explain its subject. The sub-heading, The Future of Consumer Data, is a little more enlightening. The full report, available to download here, rewards careful reading.
The very useful executive summary starts with: “Digitisation is remodelling consumer markets, and the use of data about our consumer lives has already brought huge benefits and great potential for empowerment. However many people feel powerless to understand either the growing commercial observations or its effects.”
It defines the purpose of the report thus: “Our goal in this work was to understand how far consumers may require further support to rebalance power over the use of their data.”
Overall the report feels like a warning of what might be on the way, but a lot of the research gives pointers as to what the public is concerned about. Obviously, Facebook and Google are mentioned more than once, as is the perceived view of those who use it that there is little that can do with regards controlling or even understanding, how their personal data is used.
Some of the conclusions are rather obvious. Whilst received wisdom should always be challenged, Which? discovering that the concentration of digital advertising in Facebook and Google could be harming consumers through impacting the supply chain is hardly a surprise. It suggests that there is a need for balance between innovation and both oversight and enforcement.
There is a great deal in the report with regards the beliefs and attitudes of the public. Whether this directly reflects the subscribers to email marketing lists is unclear, but one might assume that they have a greater understanding of digital marketing than the general public.
The report found that consumers judge the acceptability of data collecting and the use to which it will be put by how it affects their lives. Information regarding the collection and purpose is less of a concern.
Companies in email marketing might benefit from explaining the personal impact of data collection on its customers and subscribers to email marketing lists, especially at sign up time in the case of the latter.
In the same way, consumers are concerned over the use of personal data to predict their behaviour. Their main worry would appear to be that they are unaware of what the effects may be. There is a clear case for education and at an early stage. Clear, accurate descriptions of processes could well allay their fears.
On a positive note, the report found that consumers were often ‘pragmatic’ about data collection and recognise the benefits, such as greater choice and, one assumes, targeting. Surprisingly, they also accept the need to share data.
However, they have common concerns. These include:
1/ unknown companies ‘profile’ them as individuals,
2/ their data may be sold to support and monetise this process,
3/ personal data and profiles could be used to target them in harmful ways without their knowledge,
4/ the scale and scope of data theft.
Email marketing is all about data. Easing your customers’ legitimate fears will benefit both sides.