Dilbert And Data Protection In The Age Of Web 2.0

There was an interesting article this week in ComputerWorld: “18 firms sued for using privacy-invading mobile apps”.

I believe this highlights the growing chasm between our privacy rights and the pressure for continued growth within companies that demand personal data to grow rapidly and satisfy shareholder demands.

Like many small firms my entire business is managed 100% online now, particularly using Google Apps. As a result I’ve noticed that Google has become much more adept in its targeting of the ads it serves me based on the discussions I’ve had in Google Mail, the documents I create in Google Docs and of course my regular searches in Google.

Now, this is actually not all bad and has actually been quite useful in many cases because the ads can definitely add value. For example, I get a lot of ads served that highlight data quality vendors that I hadn’t come across that I need to request briefings with. On the personal side it’s even been useful for showcasing holiday cottages on the South Devon coast I hadn’t discovered because it’s our most popular family destination!

Trust is fragile and precious

However, where things break down is when we find out that companies we trust are going behind our backs. Path (a journaling solution) hit bad press recently when they were forced to issue an apology and change their policy for storing personal contact data on their servers without notifying the end user. Whilst they got some plaudits for the way they “cowboy’d up” and dealt with the fall out there is no doubting it will have harmed their reputation.

Consumer vs vendors – the data protection divide

The problem is that any company that offers consumer services (particularly online) simply has no choice but to grow incredibly fast and to do that they need to harvest and manage contacts – lots of them. With IPO’s and share prices firmly linked to the size of membership and rate of member acquisition there is always going to be this pressure for companies to push the boundaries of what is acceptable contact data management.

I think clearly there is a need for more transparency because one thing is clear, as consumers we are only going to get more possessive and protective of our personal data. To us, this is not data. We don’t think in terms of emails and first names, regions and IP addresses. We think in terms of loved ones, colleagues, clients and close friends. This is where there is a big reality gap I feel between consumers and vendors.

I see this a lot in corporates where companies try and cut corners with all kinds of data quality and forget that this data belongs to real people. For electrical engineers going out on site, poor quality data places them at risk. For patients under health care, poor quality data can literally mean life or death.

How many times have I heard data managers throw statements around that their data is “about 90% correct” without having any real comprehension of what that means to customers or consumers of the data?

So where do you start with data protection?

I strongly recommend you take some time to watch the following presentation “Aligning Data Protection” from data protection and data quality expert Daragh O Brien of Castlebridge Associates, one of the thought-leaders in this field and a regular contributor to Data Quality Pro.

It provides an excellent insight into the data protection issues facing organisations and how they should tackle them.

Aligning Data Protection by Daragh O Brien of Castlebridge Associates