Frankenstein’s Data: Unlocking value and protecting privacy (Guest post- Ben Jones, Digitas)

18 Jun 2010 11:08 AM | Deleted user

Frankenstein’s Data: Unlocking Value and Protecting Privacy

Ben Jones, Digitas  Share/Bookmark 

I don’t know your name, but I know where you live.  And what sort of car you drive, and the magazines you subscribe to, and what you’ve been looking at (it’s ok--we’re all obsessed with True Blood).  I know who your friends really are, and who’s just spamming you with their foursquare updates.  And that’s only the beginning.  And guess what?  It might actually be good for you.

We’re in the midst of a privacy revolution that bursts out into the open every now and then, like when Facebook decides your pics are everyone’s business (and photo-stalking the half-stranger becomes an office bloodsport).  But the real revolution is happening more quietly, as data about you and your behavior proliferates in dozens of public and private databases and enterprising developers start to connect the dots.

When we’re brainstorming ideas for a brand, we start by exploring things the brand could do that would be useful for their customers.  What application could we provide that actually does something customers would like?  How could we invest in value, rather than just another barrage of messages?  One of the exercises we do is to think about bringing streams of data together in meaningful but perhaps unexpected ways.  For hotel developers, a map that shows existing hotels as well as traffic patterns to surface new locations.  For business travelers, flight delays plus screening line times so they know whether they need to run for their flight. For home improvers, weather forecasts combined with discounts for indoor or outdoor projects, depending whether it’s going to rain.

As new sources of data are made available, and new means to connect them are developed, we will have a wealth of new ways to use data to bring value to customers.  Now add in the emerging media targeting models—that use your social network, or your behavior to bring you more relevant ads and experiences (and, by the way, all the free content you enjoy but not enough to pay for with anything except your attention).  Government entities are also opening up all kinds of data: crime statistics, sickness, public records of all kinds.  We are awash in data, and just figuring out what we might make if we joined it together.

The opportunity (and the challenge) of the privacy revolution that’s going on is not whether a Facebook or an Amazon will let some big cat out of the bag.  Thousands of cats are getting let out of thousands of bags in an endless stream and what remains to be seen is when they join together into some sort of huge and freaky Voltron-cat, whether they will use their powers for good or evil.  And while there are people out there trying to make the web safe for our data (like those fine folk at work on the Oauth protocol), we’re going to have lots of loose data around to play with.

So what to do?  First, see the possibilities inherent in this new set of tools for brands to use.  The next time you are asking a team to concept, don’t send them to Getty for images.  Send them to Programmable Web for APIs and see what they can cook up (and invite some developers to the party).   There are all kinds of ways to unlock value and surprise and delight customers.

Second, think carefully about how customers might respond when they see data about them put together (just because you can pick up their license plate number from webcams and assemble an on-the-fly video of their road trip doesn’t mean you should).

Third, keep a wary eye on the shifting edges of privacy perceptions.  Most of the lawmakers are focused on the big cats at Facebook and Google, but the public mood is uncertain about what’s private and what’s not, and how they feel about it.  They’re happy to have the value (relevant ads in context), but might not be so happy when they realize how that value is derived.  I don’t want to visit the factory, but boy oh boy are these hot dogs delicious

Ben Jones is the Executive Creative Director of Digitas Business, the B2b arm of Ad Club member company Digitas.

This post is the kick off to our guest blog series and was inspired by the content for our upcoming Edge Conference: Branded in Boston. If you want to be featured here, e-mail your ideas to


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