As more of life goes digital, data security becomes a bigger and bigger issue. We’re all learning that data is a lot more than numbers. It’s our bank accounts, our medical records, our love letters and, in the age of the smartphone, our location.
Growing awareness of the value of data offers a golden opportunity to brands that have earned people’s trust. A brand that has the credibility to say ‘your secrets are safe with me’ will be able to charge a premium.
So it’s mystifying to see some businesses playing fast and loose with their customers’ data. Particularly when it’s businesses that should just know better because data is their stock-in-trade. Last night the Bank of England branded financial information company Bloomberg ‘reprehensible’ for its snooping on customers.
At the weekend, the Sunday Times revealed that research company Ipsos Mori was offering to sell on customer data from mobile operator Everything Everywhere to the Metropolitan Police. According to the report (£), detailed in a BBC story, “information about 27 million EE customers was on offer, including their gender, age, postcode, the websites they visited, the time of day they sent texts and their location when making calls.”
Everything Everywhere responded that, while Ipsos Mori had access to data, the information had been ‘anonymised’ and could not used to identify the personal data of individual customers. And, as the BBC Technology report goes on to state, Everything Everywhere is not alone in offering this kind of information: Vodafone and O2 are also in the game.
It’s natural that network operators should look for new ways to recoup the huge investments they make in infrastructure. But if they do it by selling customer data any short term gains could come at the cost of customer trust. As data privacy becomes a critical issue for customers, trust becomes the most precious asset any business can own. Once lost, it’s very hard to win back.