Troublesome Big Data Experiences Related to Privacy

Big data has already permeated our every-day life. The most recent news however deal with growing concerns about privacy. Most prominently the NSA prism story uncovered by the Guardian.

Other news didn’t catch the same amount of public attention although they go in the same direction. To name a few examples that I came across recently: Cisco annoyed users last summer with a new anti-porn service which created privacy concerns, see e.g. here. Cisco listened to its customers and changed the policies accordingly. More recently, Microsoft was alleged to read Skype chat messages (see e.g.: Is Skype snooping on your conversations? as well as Microsoft liest heimlich Skype-Chats mit). And then we read the Xbox is suspected to spy in our livingroom: What we think we know about what Microsoft isn’t saying about the Xbox One. 

Interestingly, we could learn in May that Whatsapp had reached 250 million subscribers, despite the fact that it is not in line with international privacy rules and laws. It transfers and stores the complete list of contacts of its users to its servers. See e.g.: WhatsApp in violation of privacy law

The difference in the amount of public concern in these cases seems to correlate with the different amount of perceived benefits. Consumers seem less scared or pay less attentionif they see the benefits. (The Cisco case wouldn’t probably have made such a relatively big story if it wasn’t for the added inconvenience of configuring the device)

But this is by no means a simple recipe for corporate success – if searching for deeper customer insight with the help of big data. The damage to reputation might be considerable. Each company is well advised to follow a well-planned, responsible and sustainable strategy regarding the use of personal information. Consumers and legislation will pay attention and even if your company took corrective action, the negative consumer reviews would still be out there on the web for a long time to come and influence other’s buying decisions.


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