On The Ethical Use Of Data Vs. The Internet Of Things
The number of “things” in the Internet of Things is expanding at an astronomical rate. In 2016, 5.5 million new things become connected every day, such as a smart mattress that helps optimize your sleep, but could also alert customers of potential partner infidelity.
As consumers rapidly adopt these connected devices that add value and convenience to their lives, they are creating, passively, lots of data. This data serves quite a few purposes — anything from delivering on the advertised benefits of the device to fueling the economy, powering further innovation and delivering societal benefits. This is called the data value exchange. As our societies leap into digital life and the Internet of Things, enabling the benefits while preventing the harms is central to getting the data value exchange right.
The Accountability Shift Of Data
The Internet of Things provides fertile ground for marketing, but it is a minefield for the Ethical Use of Data (EUoD). As consumers adopt a more connected lifestyle, the responsibility of how this information is collected, shared and applied will become increasingly complex, and essentially impossible for the consumers themselves to be fully accountable for.
Most consumers are not preoccupied with knowing exactly how data about themselves is collected, analyzed and used. Consider how often the average person actually reads privacy policies before agreeing to the terms – not often. Instead, consumers pick brands they trust, and expect them to take proper precautions to keep the data safe and use it responsibly.
This is a shift of the accountability burden from the consumer to brands. Brands that want to operate with confidence and demonstrate their trustworthiness to their customers should begin the process of being accountable for the EUoD. This requires a few things: A commitment to respecting consumer privacy and policies that reflect accountability for ethical use; mechanisms to put policies into effect; monitoring to assure mechanisms work; providing consumers transparency and choice opportunities; and standing ready to demonstrate and remediate when necessary. In other words, the operationalization of data use ethics.
Consumers expect brands to follow the “do right rule,” which is essentially to follow an ethical standard for all uses of and analytics on data and not cross any lines that would harm or offend them. This requires brands to know where the “line” is, and understand that the line will move, over time. But the lines of the data value exchange are becoming increasingly difficult for brands to determine as the volume, velocity and variety of data, plus the application of big data analytics, continues to accelerate.
As technology becomes a more integrated and intimate part of our lives, some data and some uses will be more sensitive and other data and uses less sensitive. Knowing where the line is will be tricky because some data uses will be expected by default and other uses will be unanticipated, triggering surprise, shock or even harm…which then, of course, can break brand trust.
Let me illustrate with an example. Assume you own a connected car that tracks your time, speed and location, and that the manufacturer is permitted to share this data with third parties. One such recipient is your insurance provider, which analyzes the data to discover you drive more at peak traffic times, and as a result it increases your premium, only disclosing the reason upon request. Has the car manufacturer crossed the line?
Here’s another example – one that I think we’d all say yes to. Suppose you are wearing an advanced fitness tracker capable of detecting whether you are having a heart attack. Should it be default-set to communicate this medical emergency with the authorities, dispatch an ambulance and potentially save your life?
These are just a couple of digital ecosystem situations where brands must be equipped to get it right and not cross the line. It’s important to recognize that just because you can do something with data and analytics, does not mean you should. Brands must consider data use in context and make sure that the impact to the consumer is legal, respectful and fair. Ultimately consumers draw the lines. Operating on the right side of the line is vital to ensure consumer trust in your brand is not compromised.
The Governance Of Ethical Use
Given that data will be the currency of the Internet of Things and shared between parties and platforms, EUoD methodologies will become critically important to ensure that data is used appropriately, the consumer is protected and innovation flourishes. As companies extend the use of their first party data beyond the walls of their brand, they should develop an accountability program, centered on the EUoD that also extends to all players in the ecosystem.
There are several key questions that marketers in particular should be asking when they work with data: What is the purpose of my data-driven project? What is the data provenance? Under what privacy promise did the data originate? What was the consumer expectation when it was collected? Was the consumer given meaningful notice and choice? Will the outcome of my data-driven project and impact deliver articulate-able value to all stakeholders, including the consumer, or does it violate a line that may be undefined, but could be discerned against all the facts with good judgment?