Frankenstein’s Data: Unlocking Value and Protecting Privacy
Ben Jones, Digitas
I don’t know your name, but
I know where you live. And what sort of car you drive, and the magazines
you subscribe to, and what you’ve been looking at (it’s ok--we’re
all obsessed with True
Blood). I know who
your friends really are, and who’s just spamming you with their foursquare
updates. And that’s only the beginning. And guess what? It might actually
be good for you.
We’re in the midst of a privacy
revolution that bursts out into the open every now and then, like when
Facebook decides your pics are everyone’s business (and photo-stalking
the half-stranger becomes an office bloodsport). But the real revolution
is happening more quietly, as data about you and your behavior proliferates
in dozens of
public and private
databases and enterprising developers start to connect the dots.
When we’re brainstorming ideas
for a brand, we start by exploring things the brand could do that would
for their customers.
What application could we provide that actually does something customers
would like? How could we invest in value, rather than just another barrage
of messages? One of the exercises we do is to think about bringing streams
of data together in meaningful but perhaps unexpected ways. For hotel developers, a map that
shows existing hotels as well as traffic patterns to surface new locations.
For business travelers, flight delays plus screening line times so they
know whether they need to run for their flight. For home improvers,
weather forecasts combined with discounts for indoor or outdoor projects,
depending whether it’s going to rain.
As new sources of data are made
available, and new means to connect them are developed, we will have
a wealth of new ways to use data to bring value to customers. Now add
in the emerging media targeting models—that use your social network,
or your behavior to bring you more relevant ads and experiences (and,
by the way, all the free content you enjoy but not enough to pay for
with anything except your attention). Government entities are also opening
up all kinds of data: crime statistics, sickness, public records of
all kinds. We are awash in data, and just figuring out what we might
make if we joined it together.
The opportunity (and the challenge)
of the privacy revolution that’s going on is not whether a Facebook
or an Amazon will let some big cat out of the bag. Thousands of cats
are getting let out of thousands of bags in an endless stream and what
remains to be seen is when they join together into some sort of huge
and freaky Voltron-cat, whether they will use their powers for good or evil. And while there are people out there
trying to make the web safe for our data (like those fine folk at work
on the Oauth
going to have lots of loose data around to play with.
So what to do? First, see the
possibilities inherent in this new set of tools for brands to use. The
next time you are asking a team to concept, don’t send them to Getty
for images. Send them to Programmable
Web for APIs and see
what they can cook up (and invite some developers to the party). There
are all kinds of ways to unlock value and surprise and delight customers.
Second, think carefully about
how customers might respond when they see data about them put together
(just because you can pick up their
license plate number
webcams and assemble
an on-the-fly video of their road trip doesn’t mean you should).
Third, keep a wary eye on the shifting edges of privacy
of the lawmakers are focused on the big cats at Facebook and Google,
but the public mood is uncertain about what’s private and what’s
not, and how they feel about it. They’re happy to have the value (relevant
ads in context), but might not be so happy when they realize how that
value is derived. I don’t want to visit the
factory, but boy oh
boy are these
hot dogs delicious.
Ben Jones is the Executive Creative
Director of Digitas Business, the B2b arm of Ad Club member company Digitas.
This post is the kick off to our guest blog series and was inspired by the content for our upcoming Edge Conference: Branded in Boston. If you want to be featured here, e-mail your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.