Should organiations stop collecting customer data?

I spotted an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review today entitled “Stop Collecting Customer Data; Let consumers control their personal profiles” which is well worth a couple of minutes of your time, if not just because it is every bit the antithesis to all of the hyperbole around 2012 being the “year for data”.

The author, one Doc Searls, makes the case that as organisations try to mine deeper and deeper in to consumers online data trails, the more consumers will revolt against this “gross invasion of their privacy”. So far, so much exactly like what I wrote a while back  here (particularly the second to last para). However, Searl goes on to tell us that soon big business won’t own the data; we will. He goes on:

When customers own and control their own data, demand will drive supply more efficiently than supply currently drives demand. Customers not only will collect and manage their own data but will be equipped with tools for declaring their intentions directly to the whole marketplace, without having to flit from store to store or website to website looking for what they want. In this “intention economy,” customers will determine the products they want, the prices they pay, and the terms of engagement they require.

An interesting hypothesis, no doubt. But a scenario likely to manifest? Debatable. On the one hand yes, I agree that there will be a likely shift that sees us all become more concerned with our online data trails, but on the other hand I struggle to see how this will lead to the majority of web-users using their data to empower their purchase behaviours in quite the way Searls describes. Not least I remain sceptical as to the level to which organisations will allow consumers to set the terms for “the prices they pay” – even if, as we can already plainly see, customers can and are “determining the products they want” and the “terms of engagement they require”.

Moreover, I can’t see any organisation taking a punt on this theory and stopping collecting consumer data. Certainly not of their own volition. It would be too much of a competitive advantage to concede.

Food for thought then. Let me know how Searl’s vision of the future sits with you…

Matt Rebeiro

Matt helps our clients devise, develop and prototype ideas for social media activities, initiatives and programs.

His specialist subjects include understanding how social media has altered our traditional media consumption habits, as well as the luxury sector, retail and F&B. In addition, Matt also spends time working across the clothing, beauty, property and FMCG sectors.

Matt has been with RMM since 2007 and before that he ran a community radio station and studied Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

Matt mostly likes science fiction, skateboards and scotch eggs.

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