Data: do you really need it?

The question in the headline might sound like a straw man, built up just to be knocked down. But every time you request an email address, you should be asking yourself if it’s really necessary.


More and more online services now require people to create an account, log in via Facebook or give an email address before gaining access. It’s not even a controversial tactic any more but marketers appear to have stopped questioning whether it’s beneficial either.

The value of data is impressed on the business community regularly – not least by this column – but brands sometimes seem fetishistic about collecting as much as they can, even if it’s of little relevance to the service they’re providing.

For example the pre-installed music player on my new Android phone apparently has permission to read my text messages and see who I’m on the phone to. It might not exploit these permissions, except to turn down its volume politely when my mum calls, but the fact it could do more – and I apparently can’t stop it – is vaguely troubling.

Also somewhat odd are the services that won’t work unless you connect them first to Facebook. Music streaming service Deezer is one that springs to mind. An email address alone is not enough – Deezer only lets new users in if they’re prepared to be ‘social’ with their playlists.

Stranger still, you can unlink your Facebook account immediately after sign-up, which begs the question: why bother forcing people to connect in the first place? Of course, there will be a benefit for Deezer from the viral marketing effects of social sharing but there’s also a deterrent effect that will stop people signing up or using it as much if they think their musical vices will be laid bare before their nearest and dearest.

Brands that lash themselves to Facebook’s mast like this devalue the service they provide. It’s like they’re saying you won’t enjoy it unless you do it where all your friends can see. But Deezer works just as well when you want to use it ‘antisocially’.

This is classic product-orientated (as opposed to customer-centric) thinking. It presents the options that are most convenient for the business to provide, not the ones the consumer most wants.

At least it’s a strategy that Deezer has, though. There are plenty of businesses that seem to collect personal information without really knowing what to do with it. Online brands in particular need to think more carefully about giving customers choice: if they reject a request for access to all areas of their personal data, that shouldn’t mean they can’t use the service.

In fact, making data access permissions optional will just provide another data point – a measure of how open each customer is with their data. And that could be the most telling factor of all in deciding how to market to them in future.

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