Technology firms need to work harder to monetise users’ data in a "beneficent marketplace" that hands control to them if they are to build the trust needed to power a data revolution in parallel with the digital revolution, according to Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer.
Technology giants have been derided by both consumers and governments for a perceived tendency to push the envelope as far as they can when it comes to commercialising data. The resulting slump in trust from users has stymied the growth of a "personalised internet", claimed Meyer, a shift emblematic of a market where some players have been unable to resist the urge to monetise data without controlled consent.
Speaking on the "In data we trust" panel yesterday evening (22 Janaury), the Yahoo boss said: "I think controlled consent; the idea that you are actively acknowledging what you’re doing and are being very open abut how the data is being used and where it’s going to flow [is the future]. We take active commercial decisions not to do certain things with data."
It is reference to the company’s policy not to sell personal data to third parties. Instead, the data is pooled collectively to sell audience insights to advertisers, an approach Mayer suggested could be more widely adopted to boost customer adoption.
She revealed the company "changed the way we store and communicate data" in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about digital monitoring and also overhauled encryptions between data centres. Customer confidence in the brand and its services rebounded as result, Mayer added.
“A personalised internet is a better internet. To get here we need to have transparceny and afford the individual control. It comes down to being able to make a statement that users own their data, which they can examine, take it with them to other sites and vendors that they trust more in a market that helps people make these trade-offs and decisions.
"Some people have a difficult time making these trade-offs because arguably some of the vendors are not being transparent enough and not providing enough controls and choice."
Yahoo, like cable business Liberty Group, is prepared to suffer the commercial costs of taking its time to monetise big data in a bid to ensure its practices and policies are transparent to people.
Speaking on the same panel Michael Fries, chief executive of Liberty Group, said: "We’re going to try and find a way to monetise [customer data] but we have principles. We won’t do anything in terms of personalised viewing or using your data for any other purpose unless customers approve it. That’s not the small print in terms and conditions either, it’s going to big.
"When a customer logs into one our advanced TV boxes for the first time the first question they get is ‘do you want us to use any of your data for personalised viewing?' 70 per cent say yes and they sure like the fact that we’re asking them. It’s not as if we use it first and then ask them second. We ask them first and use it second, that’s a big difference between social media and other aspects of their internet experiences."
The claim points to a future marketplace where data policies are key to customer acquisition and retention, whereby people own data and only allow companies they trust to use the information.
Günther Oettinger, the European commissioner for digital economy, told delegates at the same panel that a UN agency for data protection and security is needed to safeguard the personal information from around the world. The recent hack on Sony has exposed why a radical overhaul of how customer data is managed in a “clear, pragmatic market-based regulation” is needed, he added.
The European Union has been the leading proponent in harmonising the industry around data protection. It’s "right to be forgotten" bill last year thrust accountability and gathering issues into the spotlight for the first time, and it has been investigating Google’s search market dominance in a long-running antitrust case, which saw the European parliament call for a breakup last year.
Google, Facebook and Microsoft all backed calls for a new global deal on data protection at the World Economic Forum, urging policy makers to help mend the disconnect between data protection and data retention.
But Liberty Group's Fries cautioned that a global consensus was not likely to arrive in the short term and could take "several years". Despite the commissioner’s plans, it will not be an "easy task" convincing local governments to agree to a single set of principles, he added.
"Market regulation is not in the near future. We’ll see local governments taking a stab at it which is not great. We need broader standards."
As companies race to capitalise on a hyper connected marketing, their efforts will need to work harder to empower customers to make trade-offs and consequently give them more consent.