Unilever on data privacy, control and delusion

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 17 October 2017

You’re deluded if you think your company is doing enough when it comes to changing in line with technological advances.

That’s the view of Jamie Barnard, general counsel for Unilever’s global marketing, media and ecommerce division.

Barnard, a lawyer for the FMCG and marketing powerhouse, is adamant that few companies are doing enough in digital, data and technology to be fit for the future.

"Today is the old way. With the exception of Facebook and the other big tech companies in the room, I guarantee you that anyone who thinks they're doing digital, data and tech today, is completely deluded."

“Marketing is digital today, digital is data, therefore it follows that marketing is data ...  What works today, won't work tomorrow.”

The more data companies have about customers, the better they can engage and market, but people are often reticent to share their data. And privacy and control are two major issues.

“We feel less in control today than 10 years ago. When you got a smartphone and started downloading apps you lost any meaningful control over your data.

Offering a humourous take, he describes how most people won't admit to their doctor how much they drink but are happy to share the same information via social media posts.

“My doctor doesn't know how much I drink, but Facebook has a pretty good idea," he explains. "What this tells you is it's less about privacy and more about control.”

Barnard believes there are four main reasons people don’t like the idea of sharing their data; fear, misunderstanding consent, bad user experience and spam.

“We’re living in a world that is highly volatile, compound this with massive data breaches and horror stories about identity theft and you can see why people are pulling away," he said.

The consent model, he believes, is “completely flawed”.

“Businesses rely on consent to justify what they are doing, but when you think about how consumers give their consent, you realise it's a farce. App terms of use and privacy notices - no one reads them, but people are signing these things and are legally bound by them.”

On user experience, he says the digital environment “is not a good experience” for consumers using the example of retargeting that follows users around the internet.

“It’s crappy. We all think we’re edgy and clever but there’s a lot to be done in this space. There’s unease among consumers, at a time when we want them to relax and open up and give us more data.”

Even though he’s a lawyer, Barnard doesn’t think law and regulation over data privacy will save the day.

“On this journey to a hyper connected AI world, it’s not looking that rosy. People might assume the law will be the saviour, take away the vagabonds and the thieves, but it won't.”

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop me a line at rosiebaker@yaffa.com.au

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