The politics of the personal data

If you can stand the heat, the data industry is a cool place to be. If you went to last week’s Data Marketing Show, the heat was literal as London sweltered in 34C temperatures and the air conditioning inside Olympia struggled to deal with both sun and body warmth.

For one of the clear signs that the data industry is dynamic was the high level of attendance and, even more importantly, the high status of visitors. Where many events lead to exhibitors being over-run by junior managers sent to collect brochures and seminars get packed out by students, this audience was genuine, front-line professionals.

Among exhibitors I spoke to, the view was that real business was to be had. This reflects the fact that data has been recognised as one of the core drivers of strategy – and therefore survival – in the current recession. Being part of a team that delivers success is very cool.

Another impact of market conditions has been the need to innovate. Predictive models that worked in the growth market are irrelevant to changed buying patterns now, which gives analysis teams a mandate to work on new approaches and review everything.

Data sets are also undergoing rapid change, with both clients and suppliers learning that the critical dimensions to drive effective marketing have changed. Where once the emphasis was primarily on the factual accuracy of data – correct name, address, etc – the focus now is on what the data is really telling you.

Many people may visit your website, for example, but how many of them do you know to be active buyers or in a position to afford what you have to offer? Appending segmentation codes or filtering for risk in real-time is the new cutting edge of data management and lead generation.

If you look at the biggest possible picture, then data has never been more obviously part of social trends and the development even of new regulations and codes of practice. Instead of being a back room concern that operates behind the curve, data is now leading from the front.

Just look at where we are at in the discussions about privacy online. It is because of the way data had been harvested and used to target behavioural advertising by Phorm that a high level debate about its legality was kicked off. BT has concluded that it does not want to alienate customers by adopting a data collection scheme that many felt was intrusive.

So it is around data that we are defining the new social contract between commerce and consumers. A similar debate is happening between citizens and the state over the national identity register and ID card. Personal information has become a political issue. How cool is that?

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