As shown by this week's debate around Google and the "right to be forgotten", data is becoming one of the most valuable commodities and a question of critical importance to both brands and consumers today. Over the last few years, the public conscience has become increasingly aware (and wary) of how our personal information is being used. Almost overnight, it seems we have become a 'product' in our own right, and understandably this seismic shift has left consumers unsure as to whether or not companies should be allowed access to our data (ie data about us).
Working for a company that is effectively the curator of countless gigabytes of the world's data, I have a vested interest in seeing how these opinions and counter-moves play out. As a consumer, I definitely want the information stored by brands, agencies and governments to be transparent, secure, and used wisely. While the war for complete privacy online may have already been lost, the fight to ensure that data collection is regulated has barely begun. That does not mean however, that it hasn't already made some headway.
This year alone, privacy campaigners and backers of the "right to be forgotten" have celebrated both a landmark ruling from the European Court of Justice and the European Parliament's March decision to overhaul the continent's decades-old data and privacy regulation. What the first ruling means for businesses is yet to be decided but the "right to be forgotten" has already led to much debate, including around whether Google is having to delete articles from its ecosystem due to the regulation. Either way, the "right to be forgotten" could be seen as a potential coup for brands and consumers who wish to rid themselves of those old, embarrassing search links once and for all.
The overhaul of the EU's data and privacy regulations is likely to throw up other benefits for consumers. All indicators point towards a significant shift in the nature of permission-based marketing, which in layman's terms means that EU organisations may be limited in how much data on us they are able to store and use. Instead of being asked in the fine print if we wish to opt out, the marketing industry may need to get used to the idea of politely asking consumers to opt in.
Until the EU Parliament and other government bodies provide us with final clarity however, there are no formal measures or standardised guidelines in place to protect our online privacy. However, while the officials are struggling to keep pace with technology and consumer needs on this score, a number of forward-thinking brands have taken the opportunity to lead the way.
It has been exciting to watch a number of brands gain ground and credibility on this topic. Thomas Cook and TomTom, for example, have recently taken the step of setting out all their data protection and privacy expectations and allowing users to opt-out of any and all data-collection they are uncomfortable with.
Channel4.com's privacy strategy is also worthy of note, handling both the emotional and intellectual elements of privacy communication extremely well. The company clearly views intelligent communication about its use of data not as a chore, but as an opportunity to advance its relationship with the customer, to improve trust and increase long-term engagement.
When companies take privacy seriously and ensure that it sits at the centre of its business intelligence strategy, then there is real potential for both the brand and its customers to benefit. These brands and those that follow them will be best placed to attract and retain our custom as the new laws fall into place.