Is "Little data" Big Data’s new battleground?

Mark Little, Principal Analyst, Consumer, Ovum

“You have zero privacy anyway, get over it,” Sun Microsystems chief executive Scott McNealy is quoted as saying at a product launch back in 1999. McNealy will surely have grown almost as tired of hearing his famous quote as consumers appear to be of being tracked on the Internet, and Ovum’s latest Consumer Insights survey suggests that two-thirds of the Internet population is very tired indeed.

Internet players and data collectors of every type are at risk of taking the consumer’s personal data, their “little data,” for granted, turning the Big Data value system into a battleground.

Regulation and hardening attitudes are squeezing the supply of personal data

Since Scott McNealy made his famous quote there have been many privacy infringements and policy errors. These have mostly involved major players, and notable examples include Google Street View’s covert collection of consumers’ Wi-Fi data in 2010 and Facebook’s recent Instagram policy error.

These breaches of privacy have raised the temperature to such a degree that Ovum predicts the Big Data industries will face some hurricane-force disruptions to their supply of personal data. Targeted advertising, CRM, Big Data analytics, and the digital economy as a whole will have their personal data supply lines squeezed between tightening regulation and hardening consumer attitudes to the use of personal information.

Ovum’s Consumer Insights survey has discovered that an average of 66% of the Internet population across 11 countries would select a “do not track” (DNT) feature if it was easily available, and by doing so stop the collection of their information.

Tomorrow’s invisible consumers are on the march

The latest e-privacy regulation from the EU and the push for DNT features in the US have resulted in new privacy tools for the consumer, including the new “cookie options” banners on websites in the EU and DNT features on all the major web browsers. These new privacy tools and services are empowering consumers to monitor, control, block, and secure their personal data as never before.

Privacy has become a real issue with consumers, driving the emergence of well-funded start-ups dealing in blocking, reputation management, personal data cloud, and data resale. There is a nascent alternative ecosystem for personal data forming that is user-controlled, and permission-based, and that has the power to wrong-foot the comfortable supply lines of Big Data.

Big Data disruption is on the horizon

Big Data’s complexity means that its value system has to be broken down into component parts –collection, ingestion, aggregation, processing, integration, analytics, and many more – in order to deal quickly and accurately with the volume and range of personal data. This currently works because there is architecture in place to make the data inputs, links, and interfaces in the values system work together effectively. However, the emergence of an alternative, consumer-controlled value system for personal data will force changes in Big Data.

Different data sources, business rules, permissions, and inputs will force the existing component parts of Big Data and the links between them to be redesigned and renegotiated, causing significant disruption in the values system. Marketers will have to acknowledge the differences between the new consumer profile, which is based on the consumer’s stated desires, and the old one, which was built from data obtained from websites and was based on estimated observations of historic desires.

Algorithms will have to be recoded to incorporate new inputs, sources, and correlations, analytics solutions will need to go in for a service or risk being sub-optimal, and data sources will have to be renegotiated, changing the way value is constructed within the system.

Do not take “little data” for granted

Unfortunately, in the gold rush that is Big Data it is easy to take the supply of personal or “little” data for granted. We must not forget that consumers have a sustainable competitive advantage over the Big Data players; not only can individuals always produce an accurate profile of themselves, but they can also look to their future, a trick even Google is yet to perform.

Marketers should not be surprised if more and more consumers look to alternative privacy ecosystems to control, secure, and even benefit from their own data. Marketing departments must focus on building their relationships with consumers more and their data sets less – building smarter profiles rather than bigger ones.

Consumers have not “got over” having “zero privacy.” In fact, in most cultures some level of privacy is an instinctive part of human nature, and the digital advertising and Big Data industries will just have to accept that.

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