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14 March

Prepare for the Next Big Differentiator: Data Security and Responsibility


These days, everyone is a data company. If you’re collecting and using data, you’re responsible for it and how it’s used. We saw brands come to grips with this when several prominent American news publications were blocked from the EU weeks after GDPR regulations’ passing. Even a year after unprecedented data scandals and regulation, brands still sense users’ unease about big tech and the power it wields. Rather than worry too much, though, brands should view this as an opportunity to leverage their data on building consumer trust or using their influence to promote beneficial initiatives.

Consumer trust in data privacy and security is of increasing business value to all brands, not just tech giants. In fact, data security and the responsible use of technology is primed to become a major area of growth and competitive differentiation for brands, according to a Forrester report on the subject: “Sustained compliance [to data regulation] allows firms to capitalize on the business value of security and privacy, including company reputation, share values, and customer engagement,” writes the report. Brands hoping to lead in this new competitive battleground shouldn’t wait to establish trust with their customers.

Building Trust in Tech

One of the simpler ways to build a culture of responsibility within your organization is to make the data tradeoff clear to consumers. This means plainly or creatively defining to your users the need for their data—for example, rewarding users with a stellar customer experience. It’s no secret that Uber maintains vast amounts of data on its ridership, for example, and the brand’s promise is that it uses this data to help passengers travel more efficiently. When Uber launched in Southeast Asia, it leveraged data and study findings to demonstrate how its services could make cities more livable by improving their infrastructure.

Those taking the lead in creating tech experiences must likewise position the value that they provide in making customers’ everyday lives better. The popular smart home brand Nest achieved this through its Power Project, which is focused on providing help to families unable to afford energy costs. Like Uber, Nest builds trust by presenting hard numbers in a way that’s easy for audiences to extract value. After informing users of the startling statistics about those burdened by the cost of energy, the website connects them with programs where they can donate or seek aid. The initiative connects clearly with the brand’s devotion to greater energy efficiency through its self-learning thermostats and other connected-home products.

Don’t Shy Away from Tough Decisions—Welcome Them

Organizations are bound to find themselves amidst difficult conversations about tech responsibility, since many pressing issues have yet to be defined through regulation. Again, brands can view these discussions as an opportunity to take a leading role. With 5G technology looming on the horizon (a technology that’s still met with confusion by lay users), GSMA chose to embrace the questions that the mobile technology raises about information policy, data security and city infrastructure.

The result was a VR experience showcased at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which is the largest gathering of mobile tech industry insiders in the world. Developed in collaboration with MediaMonks, the immersive VR experience prompts users to make policy decisions about mobile technology, then renders the impact of those choices on the virtual city around them.

Because the original VR experience was exclusive to conference VIP (but you can play with a web version of it here), it helped to kickstart a dialogue with decision makers by providing context for 5G’s use and addressing the challenges and social issues that its wide adoption will prompt. And because the questionnaire provides consequences for each decision users make, it’s apparent that GSMA has considered multiple viewpoints with each challenge.

Making the tough and sometimes controversial decisions about responsibility in tech certainly makes for a bitter pill to swallow. Microsoft recently found itself embroiled in controversy when its employees demanded that the company cancel a contract with the US military licensing its HoloLens for use in combat training. In contrast to Microsoft’s moving forward with the deal, last year Google opted not to renew its contract with the US Defense Department in response to a similar controversy. As tech companies carefully consider the power they wield in society and confront these challenges and criticisms head-on, they may find themselves emerging at the other end having built goodwill, equity and a greater sense of transparency.

Technology is ramping up to have a wider influence on our lives each day. Its disruptive nature might prompt unease and worry in some, though brands should view these moments as opportunities to differentiate by leading conversations and informing consumers about the value of their services. From there, the uncertain technological landscape of the near future becomes less scary and instead is made much more exciting.

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