Big data: the growing trust deficit

In the face of increasing cybercrimes and data thefts, customers’ faith in big data is being eroded. Can businesses overcome this growing trust deficit?

A login screen on a computer with email and password fields filled in

From predictive innovation to tailored products, big data analytics promises big things for business. However, its full potential can only be realized if customers continue consenting to organizations collecting and using their personal data. This willingness is being eroded by regular stories and exposes of cyber attacks and data collection by criminals, hacktivists and even nation states.

The complacency of many organizations toward cybersecurity and data protection only compounds the growing trust deficit. As a result, people have become increasingly wary about the information they share — and who they share it with.

The state of cybersecurity

Technology is advancing at a rapid speed, but criminals are more than keeping up with the pace. Research found that 90% of large businesses and 74% of small and medium businesses have suffered data breaches that have resulted in millions of identities being exposed to criminals. Given this evolving threat, it is unsurprising that peoples’ attitudes toward data sharing are changing.

EY research found that 55% of consumers have become less willing to share personal data over the last five years, while 49% say they are less likely to share data in the next five years. Most businesses are failing to grasp the long-term implications from these changing attitudes with only 20% of executives believing customers will restrict their data over the next five years.

However, the business world is not solely responsible for these changing attitudes. Revelations of questionable cyber-related activities by governments worldwide, possible state-sponsored attacks and unsanctioned eavesdropping and mass data collection, have also heavily eroded people’s trust in big data.

Between a rock and a hard place

In recent years, governments across the world have placed companies in extremely compromising positions over user data — particularly those in the technology sector. A stark conflict of interest exists between the needs of organizations to protect customer privacy and the needs of law enforcement agencies to protect national security.

Law enforcement agencies have compelled many organizations to provide customer data and some are being pressured to create system backdoors — which could potentially compromise security for organizations and customers alike. This collusion with government agencies, whether willing or not, can seriously damage customer trust toward these organizations once exposed.

Cybersecurity complacency

Trust is vital for businesses to succeed, which is why 91% of chief marketing officers say building trusted relationships is a critical focus for their departments. However, this built-up trust is severely endangered by the complacency many organizations show toward their customers’ data and privacy. As EY’s Global Information Security Survey 2015 revealed:

  • Fifty-four percent of organizations have no formalized requirements for addressing privacy obligations while using big data.
  • Thirty-seven percent have no formal requirements to address privacy concerns related to customers’ social media data.
  • Sixty-one percent have no mandate to minimize or de-identify personal information, or they only do so under unique circumstances.

Restore customer faith in data

While big data analytics can be harnessed to innovate, improve convenience, increase satisfaction and drive profitable growth, these cannot come at the expense of customers’ personal privacy.

Organizations must recognize that collecting, storing and harnessing customer data is a privilege that comes with rigorous responsibilities. Customers provide data in good faith that it will be protected and used for the right purpose. Failing to implement adequate data protection safeguards is a clear breach of customers’ trust and could severely damage brand perceptions.

Is it time to opt out?

Given the ability, more customers will likely opt out of big data schemes — even if they could benefit from them. Drastic measures must be taken by organizations to improve security. Governments must also recognize their actions in the name of “security” may also severely impact upon the economic growth potential that big data and technology can deliver.

Regardless of which safeguards are implemented, a constant threat of data breaches remains, and no organization can absolutely guarantee data security. In the face of this stark reality, customers will increasingly assess the perceived benefits of data sharing against the very real threat of potential privacy breaches.

With big data still in its infancy and the perceived benefits relatively low, don’t be surprised if people err on the side of caution and choose to opt out.

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