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Life After Cambridge Analytica: Why a New Data Economy is Emerging

Tech companies have the power to provide highly personalized experiences to users if they fight for consumers' data rights in this new digital environment.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world.  Tuomas Syrjänen will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 11-13 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX North America. Click here to learn more.

When people look back on the history of the digital economy, the Cambridge Analytica scandal will probably be considered a defining moment. It’s the point where the absolute data power enjoyed by the so-called GAFA platforms – Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple – really started to erode, and ordinary people woke up to the inherent value of their data and its potential abuse.

With the dust barely settling around the scandal, how should Facebook and the rest of the technology sector respond? Failure to adapt to the new, data-empowered consumers could be terminal for any business with data at its heart. It’s an issue I’ll be addressing at my IIeX presentation in Atlanta on June 12. Here is a taster of some of the futuristic insights I’ll be exploring:

Look Back in Anger

The immediate backlash against Facebook post-Cambridge Analytica was tough, but it could have been worse –  advertisers ranging from Sonos to Commerzbank pulled off the platform and one in 20 UK users deleted their accounts. Add a few more similar data misuse scandals to the mix, and the brands involved may not get off so lightly. Looking at the decentralised direct-action groups such as US Uncut originally formed to draw attention to corporate tax avoidance, could we see the creation of similar consumer pressure groups determined to hold businesses who misuse personal data to account? Instead of protesting at stores, imagine if members banded together to exercise their rights under GDPR to file multiple requests for their data – putting organisations under huge administrative and resource pressure.

Be the Good Guy

Companies wanting to thrive in this new digital environment need to come out fighting for consumers’ data rights. Where is the social media challenger to Facebook, based on a business model that is not personal data driven? Where is the leadership within the global tech sector demanding a new code of conduct, a data accreditation scheme for any business handling personal data, an alliance with the B-Corp movement?

Outside the big platforms,  the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal creates an even stronger case for the rise of personal data brokers and guardians, virtual or human, who can commercialise the growing consumer need for help with monetising and protecting their personal data. This could be an extension of services already offered by banks and insurance brands. Banks as consumer heroes? Whatever next! Yet post-Cambridge Analytica, there’s a real opportunity for brands, new and existing, to seize the high ground as the ‘good guys’ of the data economy.

Consumer Data as a Creative Opportunity

Post-Cambridge Analytica,  individuals and brands wanting to work with consumer data are set to face greater regulatory and consumer trust challenges than they did before the scandal erupted. Yet, I remain optimistic. If the tech sector with new and emerging consumer brands can show seriousness about caring for personal data, the technology exists to empower a brave new world of data-driven services that are highly personalised and holistic. Imagine companies collaborating across categories to work with consumers and their data on a more equal and creative basis?  Or a world where consumers trusted brands enough to allow data from their bank, online shopping, performance appraisals and health-care provider to be shared and merged in return for individualized advice on how to better manage their lives?

It’s through this more collaborative and connected approach that personal data has the potential to be so much more than the sum of our digital actions and instead act as a catalyst for really improving our everyday lives.

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