Ideas & musings about consumer behaviour

Data – Good or Evil?

By Jeremy Weinstein, Client Advisor, Global Reviews

As digital citizens we generate an inordinate amount of data, the infographic about how much data we create every minute indicates that we upload 48 hours of video to YouTube, per minute! Or share 3600 photos via Instagram, per minute! It’s actually inconceivable to think of in terms of bits and bytes as the numbers would be too great. Furthermore, as the number of connected people increases, along with bandwidth and speed, so does the amount of data we produce. So what is being done with all this data and is it benefiting us?

There are two distinct schools of thought – the first is that the data we create is being exploited by big business, such as Facebook or Google, for massive financial gain, which might not hold true if you saw Facebook’s share price plummet post IPO. The second is that our digital footprint helps the systems around us learn what we like and tailor solutions specifically for us. The sceptics would argue that the second reason just helps businesses advertise to us more directly than before, while others suggest that giving data for ‘free’ is the price we pay to have services such as Facebook.

While there are definitely privacy concerns about the way that data is gathered, used and sold, we here at Global Reviews believe that there are advantages of providing the system enough information in order to improve. The usability data that we capture about how prospects engage with a company’s web site allow us to advise clients on where and what to improve – both for the benefit of the client but ultimately for the benefit of the user. The data itself, without ‘knowing’ who it belongs to (all our data is anonymous), is the key ingredient to improving the process and systems on the websites we encounter daily.

So, while Google ads that feed off keywords in my Gmail account or the recent phenomenon of targeted ads that follow you around the net seems scary – just last week I booked a flight to Brisbane for the 22nd of January and for the next three web pages I was served ads related to flights to that destination on that date – they also do not know it is me. As long as the data remains anonymous, the benefits of data that improves understanding about how and what users need to make their daily online journey a pleasant one cannot be overstated.

While Google’s slogan is ‘do no evil’ – and we hope it’s true – the final point is that while we’ve generally been complacent with our digital traces the time has come to start thinking about where we go and we do on the net. Just as governments are now thinking about regulating the Internet, we as individual citizens need to take responsibility for our own online activity. Ignorance is no longer bliss, but by the same token giving a little bit of data can get you a lot in return.

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