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Maurice Lévy on big data and the big questions that come with it

The Drum has assembled an enviable panel of magnificent minds from the industry and beyond to identify the latest trends and brilliant ideas shaping our space. Here’s what’s been exciting them lately…

The possibilities around data are massive, but they come with some very serious questions according to Publicis Groupe boss Maurice Lévy. Our soon-to-be guest editor tells us why.

Maurice Lévy

If there is one trend I would like to highlight, it is data. Data is associated with the main growth engine – ie digital – that is powered by content, mobility and app development. However, it is an animal of its own.

It brings efficiency: big data allows the locating of information that can help the client best target the consumers it wants to acquire. It is also instrumental in delivering the right message using the consumer’s preferred screen, in the multi-connected always-on age.

It fosters dialogue and compatibility: while companies have a lot of data to delve through, they also have to be able to talk to each another using data banks. Hence the convergence that stems from such compatibility challenges.

It is much richer than mere bits: the combination with psychological information means that the client gets hard facts to create engaging content. There is so much data coming from the web that, to extract its hidden value, you need to combine, crosscheck and overlap data in order to build a profile. You can then establish some hard facts on the kinds of websites and e-commerce platforms people are visiting or purchasing on.

If I can add to that some behavioural information, a profile can emerge and it starts to become much more interesting. Not only does it mean I can continue to track and best service the right person, but I can also do that using the right content.

However, we face rising questions about privacy in the era of geofencing and apps. How much do consumers want to disclose in order for me to target them with a message? That can be either very useful or very annoying. And this is starting to become very sensitive, as epitomised by Snapchat’s success or Tor-based initiatives. In due course, regulators will undoubtedly step in – at least in Europe.

It is also about the consumer’s will. Firstly, most consumers are not even aware of their browsing preferences which could be a free lunch for data hunters. Secondly, when aware and opting out, it doesn’t mean there is no data collection in the background. This is something extremely important for the future, while lots of platforms generate humongous revenues out of data. It is a multi-billion dollar question.

Bottom line, you have the issue of data ownership. The consumer could rightfully ask ‘it’s my information, why should anyone else make money out of it?’ and claim for a share of the associated revenues. Some startups already offer value for personal data.

Though the internet model is built on advertising and data collection for (mainly) free services, it doesn’t mean that companies should be the only beneficiaries. That is another big question: both from a philosophical and financial standpoint.

Maurice Lévy will be guest editing the next issue of The Drum magazine which launches at this year’s Cannes Lions festival.

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