Data, you’re a lousy lover

The APG once referred to me as “Data’s Darling”.  They might have been hinting that I had the same shaky grasp of economics as that ill-fated Chancellor of the Exchequer (who admittedly now looks like a genius, compared to the current incumbent).  But I prefer to think they meant I’ve always been passionate about the numbers.  So it is with great sadness that I now say to the object of my affections: “Data, you’re a lousy lover.”

My problem is this…

(Don’t worry, I’m not going to take the sexual metaphor much further: there will be no talk of premature evaluation, my lack of confidence between the spreadsheets or my difficulty in getting numbers to stand up.)

Despite the fact that “data” comes from the Latin verb “to give”, it’s become a bit selfish recently.  The emphasis of most data-driven marketing is on the value the company can extract, not the benefits the organisation can bring to the consumer.  Worse still, the rewards reaped by the corporation are often at the expense of the customer.  It’s as if data has become a new weapon, with which companies can wrest back control of the relationship, rather than a shared asset that could help both sides.

Of course, there are noble exceptions to this rule: Nike Fuelband, Fiat EcoDrive and Benadryl’s social hayfever app all use data to benefit the company and consumer alike.  But the fact that these examples are so well-known merely underlines their rarity in a world of re-targeting, differentiated pricing and aggressive privacy invasion.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve still got a lot of time for my first love.  But I’m fed up with this attitude of “take, take, take.”  I hope that one day, Big Data will live up to its potential as something more Big Hearted.  But until then, I’m afraid we’ll just have to be good friends.

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