Data Integrity, or Just Plain Integrity?

I sense this theme will be recurring in a market research blog, but a recent news story really spoke to me about the increasing need to balance two seemingly opposite traits: transparency and secrecy. It was big news recently that Facebook was sued for compiling what users believe to be ‘private’ messages to harvest information with the intent to sell to marketing companies. (This reminds me of a previous post, about Fair Data…)

Has the giant of social media, the all-intrusive, ever-present Facebook wronged its loyal users? The suit is seeking class action status on behalf of all U.S. users who have messages with a URL located within. People everywhere are up in arms over data mining and user profiling. Google, Yahoo! and LinkedIn are all dealing with similar allegations. I feel that when a tech giant like Facebook steps out of bounds in this sense, there is another layer of confusion because we are dealing with the internet, big data, tech, whatever you want to call it. (Disclaimer: I do not know enough about their user agreements or privacy policy to say whether they have or have not broken any rules, I can only observe that people felt betrayed) People are crying foul, and saying we need more protection.

I think the technical jargon around data can get intimidating. There are secure servers, protocols, etc. And that’s not even including the legalese that comes into play. Though I really believe the expectations around data are essentially the same good business ethics that have always been expected by consumers. As a consumer, I recognize companies are marketing to me, or trying to somehow get information from me to help sell to me. And I participate in this system, though some would argue I have no choice (cue Morpheus with the Red Pill and the Blue Pill). In return I expect whomever I share my thoughts/ideas/data/money with to abide by a general set of rules, and that they will be open and honest with me. And by being honest with me, they get my unhesitating willingness to give them deep insights into my soul (did I say soul? I meant my wish list. Same thing, right?)

I guess this post is not so much of a deep dive into the ethics of it all, but really a call to everyone out there to realize, the game has changed but the rules have (or should) not. Without the consumer’s trust, your brand is nothing. The emotional connection fails. All of us (tech companies, market researchers, or the mom and pop shop around the corner) need to be aware of the fact that the only thing our customers ask of us is good, old fashioned integrity.