Your personal data - a crisis of trust - Business Works
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Your personal data - a crisis of trust

by Liz Brandt, CEO, Ctrl-Shift Over the last 10 years our economy has undergone a massive transformation fuelled by data. This shift holds huge potential for businesses and individuals, but only if it is based on trust, says Liz Brandt, CEO of Ctrl-Shift.

While consumers may see the benefit of handing over personal data in some instances - such as to receive personalised promotions or advice - they also feel cautious about the perceived trade-off between products and services using personal information and their right to privacy. With the growth of digital services, we've seen increasing concerns about the use of personal information by companies. Often this is associated with a lack of control, lack of consent, lack of awareness of the business models, fear of data breaches and concerns about 'being watched'.

Consumer unease around data and privacy issues is, in no small part, driven by the various high-profile 'hacking scandals' over the last few years. These have highlighted how much personal data some organisations hold and, in some cases, led to questions over why they hold it and how they use it.

This growing crisis of trust amongst consumer was revealed in recent polling we conducted with IPSOS-Mori that found nearly three quarters of consumers (74%) are concerned about businesses that collect their data online. More than a third (34%) said they do not understand how personal information is used online and the majority of those who claim understanding only do so to some extent. Worryingly, it appears that in the data debate 'ignorance is bliss' as higher levels of understanding of how data is used by companies appears to exacerbate worries.

This decreasing trust amongst customers undermines their willingness not only to share personal information, but also to engage with business at all. Seven in ten (70%) consumers admitted to having actively taken steps in the last three months to protect their personal information online - including clearing browsing history (44%), changing passwords (39%), adjusting privacy settings (23%), and avoiding social media login services for external websites (13%).

Taking these concerns into account, businesses have much to do to reassure consumers that they can be trusted. The majority of consumers (56%) are even unhappy with businesses using internet data in ways that can be beneficial, such as to build up an online profile of their habits which meant they received 'products, services and promotions that are relevant to me'. Only one in five consumers were happy to have their online data collected in this way, despite it being common practice for most websites. Worryingly, a third of consumers said that they would not even use online services that promised to 'keep my private information safely and securely'. But there is hope: businesses that are trusted can expect to be rewarded, as our polling found that consumers are prepared to give additional information to businesses that they liked or trusted.

So, what are the implications of this crisis in trust? We're beginning to see a new wave of services which can help us manage our personal information and help us make better decisions. An example of these Personal Information Services (or PIMs), is MIYa: a new energy switching services created by one of our clients, MyWave. By giving MIYa information on your energy habits and use the platform can identify the best energy tariff to suit your needs, saving consumers time and money. It will even reassess your tariff on a regular basis and switch it if things change.

But it's clear that for this, or other PIMs, to work there has to be absolute trust in sharing your data with them. MIYa do this by putting customers in control of their data, only sharing it with explicit consent. When we've estimated the value of PIMs to the UK economy as £16.5bn annually, businesses will see their bottom-line suffer if they don't get it right.

All organisations need to heed consumer concerns about use of personal data and focus on building digital products and services that are based on trusted, sustainable customer relationships. Consumer-facing brands are recognising the possibilities of engaging their customers in a more intimate information-based relationship. If customers can confidently trust companies with their data and are empowered to use their data for their own purposes, this enables the creation of a wide range of innovative never-seen-before services like Miya.

We can already see how the Personal Information Economy is transforming the value businesses create and how they reach and interact with customers. At our annual Personal Information Economy Conference last month, we heard from dozens of speakers who explored this core theme of how to achieve growth through consumer trust. We want, and need, a world where consumers have confidence in online services, where trust is a core principle designed into products and services. Companies that can deliver trust will be able to launch exciting new services and turn compliance into a platform for innovation and growth. Those who don't, risk alienating their customers and getting left behind. When there's a potential £16.5bn up for grabs, missing the opportunity for growth through trust could be a very expensive mistake.

You can find more information about Ctrl-Shift at:

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