The Hidden Issue in Facebook Dispute

Fine words about protecting privacy don't mask how consumers are being denied decision-making power about their own data.

Headlines can have direct bearing on the world of data and insight —and this has been even more frequent in recent years. This, increasingly, including topics like data monetization. One such story was the news that Facebook was preventing Admiral Insurance (in the U.K.) from using social-media-activity data as a means of assessing risk. Admiral planned to enable Facebook users to not only log on with their Facebook ID but to also opt in to giving Admiral access to their data in return for potentially lower car insurance premiums. Given the higher cost of car insurance for younger drivers, the idea had real appeal. However, it appears that, at the last minute, Facebook announced that it is not willing to allow such data from its users to be shared with Admiral, citing data privacy concerns. (If you missed it, the full BBC news report is here.) Why should such news matter to customer insight leaders? This dispute gets to the heart of a new battleground for both service providers and those collecting significant amounts of user-provided and user-generated data/content. See also: 5 Predictions for the IoT in 2017   The issue at stake Sadly, this appears to be another example of today’s data barons relying on an old-style command-and-control mindset. To reach the potential for greater data democracy, we need to see a move in corporate culture toward greater collaboration and transparency. We may never know the rights and wrongs of Admiral’s negotiations — like whether or not it was naive in failing to contractually lock down access to the required APIs. However, Facebook’s behavior still appears to be heavy-handed and conveys an arrogance in regard to data ownership that is disappointing. But then, perhaps, the leopard, which thought it was fair to experiment on users without permission, has not really changed its spots. It is an interesting object lesson for other firms aiming to create value from social data and data sharing between businesses. Customers should own their own data The core of my concern, however, comes from a customer perspective. As more and more firms — from Admiral to TripAdviser — are looking at data-monetization plans, firms should remember whose data it is. Hiding behind fine words about protecting privacy does not mask how consumers are being denied decision-making power about their own data. It is my hope that truly customer-centric organizations can learn from this bad example. People deserve to be educated about the reality of data monetization in our changing world. Many applications, with permission, will have the potential to make peoples' lives easier or to save them money (for the price of their data). Infantilizing customers by deciding what is to be allowed is “Nanny State” thinking. What our industry and our society needs, instead, is clear communication that gives people the opportunities and choices of what should happen with their data. I suspect many young drivers would have chosen to share their Facebook data with Admiral in return for cheaper premiums. Changing mindsets, thinking in terms of customers as more active data owners, also happens to be the best mindset to adopt in preparing for GDPR. A controversial issue It has been interesting to see how this Facebook-Admiral item has divided opinion. The active hub My Customer promptly ran an opinion piece (to which I contributed toward the end of the article). As you can see, there are strong views on both sides. See also: How to Turbocharge a Marketing Budget   I see the need to raise awareness about social media data being used by other companies. Too many conferences laud the potential of big data without an equal emphasis on data protection and permission-based marketing. But I still come down on the side of giving the customer the choice. Closing reflections Let’s just reflect on the fact that this might be an example where a U.S. tech giant is not embracing the free market and the U.K. insurer could be the customer's champion. Strange times, indeed… Let us know if there are other news stories that have grabbed your attention or on which you’d like to know the Customer Insight Leader view.

Paul Laughlin

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Paul Laughlin

Paul Laughlin is the founder of Laughlin Consultancy, which helps companies generate sustainable value from their customer insight. This includes growing their bottom line, improving customer retention and demonstrating to regulators that they treat customers fairly.


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