Regardless of how you engage with the online world, whether you’re a social media butterfly, an online shopaholic, an e-bookworm or a budding YouTuber, all of us are active hubs of personal data. But, with this data, comes a new era in the traditional consumer-provider relationship; we live in an age where companies increasingly seek to provide us with tailored products and services based on our data. What we read, what we watch and what we buy, can all influence what we are offered and sold. Never before have we, as consumers, had such an ability to advertise our apparent interests, wants and needs, by doing nothing more than carrying out our everyday activities.
As the Government highlighted in its recent Digital Strategy, harnessing the revolution in the sharing, use and analysis of data is essential to both the expansion of the digital and wider economies. While it is important to recognise that the greater sharing of data comes with both risks and opportunities, unfortunately, we all too often focus on the risks. Of course, the hacking and theft of personal data, the misuse of information and the unsolicited sales calls we all experience when our data is ‘sold on’, doesn’t help the image of data sharing.
However, with the Government predicting that more effective data sharing could create up to £66 billion of new business and innovation opportunities in the UK, the prize is such that these issues must be addressed. As part of this, the business community also has its part to play in encouraging more of us to feel confident with how our data is used. Currently, many of the data sharing platforms utilised by businesses, still have some way to go before the true consumer benefit is realised.
As consumers, we need to be able to trust that the use of our personal data empowers, not impedes us. In a world where we are encouraged to shop around to find products, such as a mortgage or credit card, but could then be penalised for the number of applications made, with the addition of a ‘hard credit search’ remaining on your credit file, there needs to be more transparency around how this insight is used by providers. Consumers can’t even be sure that the deal, or interest rate, they have initially applied for will be the one they actually receive. This is a confusing message and one that may well discourage consumers from finding the very best products or services. It’s high time that consumer empowerment and benefit become the cornerstone of data sharing policy across the public and private sectors.
The Government’s commitment to work with organisations and businesses to create an environment to open up consumer data across more sectors through the use of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) is a welcome one, however the true value from these initiatives, will only come when there is full business commitment to act upon them.
Analytics and the ability to rapidly process huge amounts of data is developing at an almost incomprehensible pace. It’s already clear to see how businesses are benefitting from this, however, for the next level of success to be realised, these businesses need to help educate customers on the benefits for them. Clearly, true consumer understanding will only come when they see an impact on their premiums and the products they are offered. Therefore, all parts of the chain must pull together to drive sustainable success. It’s easy to believe we are already working collaboratively, but how many of us could be doing more?