With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Europe is about to change the rules around data, and it's got the digital marketing and publishing worlds in a state of upheaval. Right now, the name of the game is compliance, and it’s a mad dash for all entities holding data on EU citizens (that’s a lot of entities) to bring themselves in line with the new requirements (or at least figure out what they should be doing differently).
Unfortunately, as with any major regulatory shift, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. Marketers and their compliance departments are getting so bogged down in the minutiae of the new regulations that they’re failing to acknowledge the bigger picture: GDPR is just the beginning of an even larger, more structural shift in which consumers begin to grasp the inequities of the "value exchange" in which they've been unwitting participants for years. This shift will continue to have implications for marketers well after the dust from GDPR settles.
Think Like a Consumer — Because You Are One
For us in the marketing and publishing worlds, to truly understand where data ownership is headed, it pays to take off our industry hats for a moment and think like a regular consumer. (Come on, this shouldn’t be hard. You are a consumer, after all.)
The fact of the matter is that we, as consumers, have been freely surrendering scads of our valuable personal data for years, even decades. With every online action — and increasingly, offline actions as well — we generate data that is collected by the companies around us. The biggies are obvious: Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft. They know us better than our own parents do at this point.
We’ve been giving up our data, particularly to the big guys, in exchange for their services. We want to be able to post cat memes to our friends and family, have shoelaces delivered to our front door, look up Celine Dion’s age to win an argument, be able to unlock our phones with our fingerprints, and trust word-processing programs to correct our crappy grammar for us. We deem such services worth the personal data we must give up to obtain them. But there are two things that are becoming increasingly apparent to us, the consumers:
The value of our personal information is becoming apparent. According to The Economist, the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil — it's data. With this rising power comes awareness. The days of large companies quietly profiting off consumers’ personal data are over.
Power to the People
To date, control of personal data, particularly online, has been difficult if not impossible. Consumers have either thrown up their hands and accepted the rampant profiteering off their data, or they have sought to wholesale block it via the use of ad blockers, VPNs or other means. As consumers, we don’t necessarily find either of these scenarios ideal or even acceptable. As marketers, we need to acknowledge this widespread frustration and amend our data-collection and use practices — or eventually they will be amended for us via increasingly heavy-handed regulations.
Rather than whine about regulation of our data practices, we as an industry need to move toward a system in which consumers feel empowered to control their data and be compensated fairly for its use. Technologies like blockchain need to rise up to intermediate what is presently an unsecure and unfair exchange, and we as marketers need to be champions of appropriate use of such technologies, rather than thorns in their sides.
When it comes to the future of data ownership, the companies that think like consumers will be the ones that win. Given that we’re all consumers, this shouldn’t be so hard. Should it?