Trust, Not Data, is the New Oil

Personal Data Time Magazine CoverI helped Vibrant Data Labs produce a display video that detailed their analysis of the challenges we must overcome to insure our personal data is working for us and not against. In Davos, this video played prior to The World Economic Forum’s sessions concerning Big Data. The WEF has been hard at work on developing a set of guiding “principles” for their members. While swimming in a sea of data conversations, I read in several places that data is the new oil. I see it differently. I think TRUST– not Big Data – is becoming the ultimate commodity. And man, oh man, there seems to be a shortage of trust right now, so its value is soaring, particularly at the start of each day’s news cycle. In the US, the financial and mortgage industries flunked the trust test big time. We have come to realize that our beloved smartphones and computers are indeed spying on us and all the data collected is helping companies large and small sell us what (they think) we want and need. And if you think trust can’t be traded like a commodity then you might want to study up on Brand Equity and how it is a tangible asset on Corporate P&L statements. Beyond the wall of commerce, the world over, data has been used to hurt us. Dictators have used it to track down the resistance, drug traffickers have used it to silence citizen journalists. Yet us simple folk cannot see or control that data. Now we learn the extent to which our government has been at the Big Data mining party too. The question of necessity and overreach aside – most people just want to be asked nicely, explained the rules, simply and clearly and be given control. They don’t want their data to hurt them; they want it to help them. Essentially, they want to trust.

Most people don’t want their data to hurt them; they want it to help them. Essentially, they want to trust.”

As a marketer I have always preached that at the heart of brand loyalty is customer trust, built by clearly stating what you will do and then following through on that promise. Do that over and over again and you produce trust and loyalty. But once you prove to be untrustworthy it is difficult to recover, especially with the viral powers of social media. The challenge is to use data mining to genuinely improve customer relations while being absolutely transparent – no small print anymore. This, while also promising to guard and keep private all the collected data, those who can do that will thrive. An associate of mine working in the cyber security business says this is impossible and that Google is the darkest force of them all. Whether this is true or not, I believe whomever invents a way for “we the people” to have control over our own data will reap the rewards that only the precious and rare value of trust can produce.

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