As CEO of one of the largest marketing data technology companies in the world, it's not surprising that I am passionate about helping advertisers use data to connect with customers and prospects. In the last few years, I've seen important advances in the way companies leverage data to make advertising more meaningful and deliver greater value. And today, innovative new data technologies allow marketers and businesses to provide services never before possible.
Nonetheless, it may surprise you to know that just like everyone else -- as a husband, father and citizen -- I do have concerns about how to ensure the data about me is used responsibly and that it remains secure.
In this always-on, uber-connected world, it's not a matter of whether or not data will be created or utilized. It's inevitable as we move toward a more personalized and customized way of life. Technology has evolved, and we as consumers have come to expect brands and companies to anticipate and instantaneously cater to our wants and needs. We embrace innovation and the conveniences it brings and take advantage of the special offers and deals that appeal to us. Further, we expect applications and information to be either free or at a low-cost. It's a trade most of us are willing to make -- data in exchange for things that benefit us and make our lives richer and easier. But it's important to acknowledge that not everyone is willing to make that value exchange to the same degree.
Consumers Have a Right to Choose Privacy Levels
Some of us are much more concerned with privacy than others. Determining the right level for ourselves as individuals ought to be a choice. I think why many of us are currently uncomfortable with data privacy is because it often feels like we have little say in the data marketers have about us and no assurances that this information is being protected. I think we as consumers would feel better knowing that data about us is being used responsibly -- meaning clear measures are in place to protect our privacy and guidelines exist that afford all of us a reasonable amount of purview over our digital destiny.
Some believe that all data is of equal importance and therefore must be controlled in exactly the same way. This is just not the case. Data regarding personal information that pertains to employment or insurability decisions, or that relates to sensitive health-related issues or confidential matters, deserves much different treatment than data that would indicate that I am a sports fan. Too often, legislation and regulation seek to paint issues in broad strokes, often with unforeseen consequences to liberties and innovation, despite being born of the best intentions.
The Data Broker Controversy Misses the Point
There's an ongoing debate regarding data brokers and which companies fall into that category. That discussion misses the point. The reality is that in this new data economy, a majority of companies across industries are collecting, aggregating and using data to improve business and advance relationships with customers. Because of this, there should be standardized and agreed upon guidelines for all.
The Marketing-Data Doctrine's Five Rules
Here are five simple yet essential requirements that we as consumers should demand. These core pillars form a Marketing Data Doctrine and represent an important set of operational and ethical guidelines that create a balance between protection, privacy and innovation:
1. Provide Core Transparency and Choice
Marketing 'Big Data' begins with core consumer data, which includes key demographic, purchase and preference information that form the basis for additional insights. Companies to this point have done a less-than-adequate job of offering consumers access to these core data elements so that we can see the information first-hand and then decide whether we would like to leave it as-is, adjust it, selectively opt-out of certain uses of the data or universally opt-out altogether from having those data elements used in marketing campaigns. This level of transparency should be provided to individuals and our industry needs to step up in a much more consistent way if we ever hope to assuage fears and remove the appearance of a veil of secrecy.
2. Enforce Stringent Data-Source Screening
Not all data is created equal. Some unscrupulous companies source data in less than ethical ways. Companies must agree upon and enforce meaningful data sourcing requirements to ensure that any and all consumer data sources have been properly screened and credentialed prior to use.
3. Don't Use Data for Credit or Insurance
Much confusion exists because people do not understand how the data about them is being used. Companies must commit that marketing data be used only for marketing purposes. Marketing data cannot and should not be utilized to determine credit, insurance underwriting or employment. The Direct Marketing Association of America and the Digital Advertising Alliance have taken important steps forward in this area, but our industry must continue to advance this commitment.
4. Restrict Use of Sensitive Data
Even when some data is sourced appropriately and credentialed properly, it still may not be appropriate to use for general marketing purposes. Companies must take extra precautions when using sensitive data including health data (related to sensitive conditions, treatment, etc.) and financial data (data that could be used to discriminate against vulnerable populations).
5. Keep Marketing Data Secure
Any company that maintains consumer marketing data, must take appropriate actions to protect and secure that information. Minimum requirements should include appropriate physical and cyber security measures to restrict access only to authorized users. Consumer trust begins by enabling all of us to know that our information is safe and secure.
These five tenets combine to form a powerful promise to all consumers. But I am especially focused on how to improve transparency and choice because without it, everything else is hollow.
Our company introduced AboutTheData.com to the U.S. market last September, allowing consumers to see the data we have about them. Of the more than half a million people who have come to the site, less than 2% have chosen to opt-out either partially or universally from having their data used as a part of marketing campaigns. Instead, a significant number chose to make edits to their accounts to update the data, while the vast majority did not alter the data about themselves or opt-out.
A Call to Action for Ethical Data Use
As we go forward, it will be vital for companies using data to pool collective knowledge and perspectives to formulate even more advanced principles regarding the ethical use of data. To this end, I'll take the first step today by inviting my colleagues across the data industry, as well as all interested parties, to offer their best suggestions for building additional modernized guardrails -- ones that protect consumers across existing and emerging channels while ensuring that innovation and commerce are not stifled.
Please submit your thoughts to EthicalData@acxiom.com.
The best suggestions for the ethical use of data will be aggregated and posted on the AboutTheData.com blog in the near future, and we'll work with regulators, legislators and private industry to enact positive and meaningful change based on your input.
When we remove the mystery, we remove the fear, and that's when truly amazing things can happen.