Digital is Human, Human is Data and Data is the Foundation of Trust

“If you torture data long enough, it will confess to anything you’d like.” – Ronald Coase

The technologies that pervade our existence are transforming how we as consumers live, work and play. Our latest study, “The Business Value of Trust,” highlights that almost half of consumers we surveyed consider themselves “always connected”, and 77% view social media platforms as critical to maintaining social relationships. Such rampant connectivity has given rise to an age of personal data sharing (and over-sharing) and increased consumer expectations for mass personalization, with 58% of consumers surveyed saying they demand personalized products and services from companies.

Such contextually relevant experiences are impossible without data, and markets recognize this vital connection. The amalgam of data — our “virtual selves” — is becoming increasingly valuable to companies, many of which are now scrambling to provide the highly personalized experiences to which we have flocked in recent years. In fact, data is among the intangible assets constituting as much as 84% of the market value of companies listed on the S&P 500 index.

There is, however, a dark side to this business-technology shift that raises important technological, social and ethical considerations: What exactly is appropriate use of data? Is it appropriate for a health insurance provider to monitor clients’ fitness band data and use it to adjust their insurance premiums? Is it proper for a taxi service to charge a higher price for a passenger who’s headed to the airport because she tweeted that she was in a rush? All of these – and many more - are difficult, commercial questions. But at heart, they are ethical questions. According to Gartner, by 2018, half of business ethics violations will occur through improper use of big data analytics.

Don’t just keep my data; keep my trust. The propensity for consumers to expose much of their personal lives, and thus data, online has provided an abundance of publicly available personal information that could be exploited if ethics are compromised by companies; 65% of consumers we surveyed don’t know how or where their personal data is stored. Our study revealed that one of the biggest threats to companies today comes not from the competition, but from the ability to win and keep consumer trust. In an age when personal data is the key to honing a competitive edge, data ethics is at the heart of business success, as you and I will increasingly choose to work with Vendor A over Vendor B, if we trust Vendor A more.

So, how to make data ethics as your company’s biggest asset? In our view, we suggest:

Add human intelligence to existing analytics capabilities. We believe the future of analytics will lie in its intelligent ability to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate use of data. Organizations need to develop an ethics framework (depending on the industry, data usage capabilities, etc.) and add it as a tool to the company’s current analytics solutions. The use of an embedded ethics monitoring mechanism, either via pre-built frameworks or use of a tool, would assist, guide or notify users if their machine/mining algorithms crossed the ethical line and take necessary steps to avoid unwanted situations.

Make data ethics a key performance indicator. Ethics must become a key performance indicator for every employee who has a direct or indirect connection with customer data. The starting point should be establishing onboard training for all new employees, and then initiating a company-wide program to help people understand the legal and business consequences of unethical data practices. Follow-up actions should include suggesting early interventions to avoid or mitigate risk, and reinforcing the goals and outcomes of the ethical framework.

Data ethics is the new battleground for digital success as there is no such thing as blind trust in today’s business world. Check out our new study findings to learn how to master the digital economy fundamentals of data ethics and consumer trust.