It’s time we all took a crash course in digital education

Paul Sigaloff
By Paul Sigaloff | 19 May 2020

Paul Sigaloff is managing director at Verizon Media.

The Federal Government’s coronavirus app has caused plenty of hand-wringing in this country. It’s also shot the subject of personal data right back up the news cycle.

And rest assured, you can expect to hear plenty more about the use and misuse of data as the US election gains prominence in the lead up to the November 3 vote.

It’s a subject we explored in-depth recently with the latest in our Decoded series, featuring Cambridge Analytica whistleblower turned data activist Brittany Kaiser.

Her key learning from her time at Cambridge Analytica, as she explained, was “gaining an understanding about just how big the global data industry is, how complex it is and also how much people have been manipulated to give it away over the years”.

This prompted interview host, Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Sarah O’Carroll, to confess just how readily she gives away her own data to businesses that ask - apps, websites, you name it. And I should add here that Verizon Media - the company that employs us both - collects user data too.

Now I am in the same boat as Sarah, often providing my own details to businesses without enough scrutiny and I’m sure I’m not alone in this behaviour.

But too often this approach from businesses, Kaiser says, is ethically dubious and creates real tension with the needs of the consumer. At a minimum, she says customers should be acquainting themselves with the terms and conditions laid out by companies that seek our data.

Or, better still, now that the digital age is in full swing, there should be genuine education to stop the confusion and misuse that can occur.

“We were never taught in schools anything besides how to use a computer. We certainly weren't told everything that you're typing and searching for is being recorded and traded around the world without your explicit consent or knowledge. That's starting to change these days but trust me, none of us grew up learning about what that means,” Kaiser says.

It’s precisely for this reason that I think we all need to collectively bolster our knowledge on the subject of data and consumer rights. I’m not too proud to acknowledge there are gaps in my own understanding of the subject and I’m sure it applies to people right across our industry.

A general lack of comprehension and being inadequately prepared for digital threats can have global ramifications, as we’ve seen via malign external influence in the 2016 US election and the UK’s Brexit vote. But on a more prosaic level, it can be something that can get your business closed down.

Again I’ll invoke the words of Brittany Kaiser, who sounded her own warning on the subject: “A lot of companies probably don't realise how big a risk it is not properly training their staff. In most big companies they're your weakest cybersecurity link. You need to ask, ‘Is there a staff member that doesn't know how to spot a phishing attempt?’”

If your business gets hacked and that data gets stolen or ransomed, the ramifications can be severe, which is why data training at Verizon Media is mandatory.

Doing the right thing

Kaiser’s takeaway for individuals was that if you take the time to acquaint yourself with T&Cs around data sharing and don’t like what you see, then don’t give your consent. She’s right there.  It’s incumbent on us all as individuals to do our due diligence. New regulations that push businesses to ditch pages of legalese will only help here too.

But as business leaders we have an additional role to play. We have the power to provide the consumer with the tools to easily understand what we are collecting and what we are using it for. Add to that better training for staff and we can start to create a world where customers trust companies and governments with their data.

Regulations like GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California are the right steps in compelling businesses to stay compliant. That doesn’t mean marketers shouldn’t still play a part in making a difference too.

Another of our Decoded guests, Optus CMO Melissa Hopkins, had a very refreshing take to share. She said that she wasn’t interested in wanting to know every detail about an individual, it was rather the broader consumer trends and insights she wanted to better understand.

The other important point Melissa made was about ensuring there is a real value exchange for people when they give up their data - essentially, that by allowing businesses to get to know me and my preferences I’m going to get a better product or service. That seems very reasonable and is the course we have set at Verizon Media.

At the end of the day, it came down to a question of data integrity for her and I agree with her position wholeheartedly.

So I encourage you to take the time to personally assess your data sharing habits. If you are in a position of influence at your company, then take your opportunities to be a leader in data compliance and safety.

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