Personal Identity Data: Good Versus Evil


Posted by Neil Wilson on 3/14/12 4:00 AM

Lately the news is filled with horror stories about how companies are abusing personal data – this topic is the “zombie apocalypse” of the online world – it’s everywhere, and everyone’s alarmed and up in arms.

But is it all bad news? Are all the companies that are gathering personal data villainous and evil? What if there are some companies out there that are ready to give you back control over your data? Here’s a likely scenario:

Your mobile provider offers to let you view the information they currently hold on you, giving you the ability to delete (truly delete) things you don’t want them to know. Then, once you’ve reviewed your record, they offer you a 10% discount on your data plan if you’ll share additional data with them – data that they will not share with other companies, unless you approve. Over time, they could even continue to offer you discounts or bonuses if you share more information – again, on your terms.

Would you take that offer? It puts you back in control. It lets you know what they know, which takes some of the creepy factor out of their activities. And it means that you’re helping them tailor your plan to fit you, based on the data you share – which should result in savings and a better, more personalized plan for you.

Why would your mobile company do this for you? Assuming they’re not the evil “take over the world” type of company we see in the movies, there are several reasons that they might take this more open, friendly path:

  1. Trust – by opening your files to you, the company gains your trust. It’s a risk for them, because you could wipe out everything they know about you. But it’s a calculated risk – you could also add more information. And since few companies are doing this, the first ones to do it will be differentiated as pioneers and outliers, by claiming to give you back control over your data.
  2. More Useful Information – given the chance to review and update your own identity info, you might provide more accurate information. I’d rather someone target me accurately than waste my time with inaccurate offers, so I’d take the time to update my information with correct data.
  3. Loyalty – once a company gives you control, and allows you to tell them what you want them to know about you, you’re more likely to work with them over and over. The rewards are there for you, so you’ll continue to work with that company for greater benefit.

It’s easy to get swept up in the “zombie invasion” scare around the use of personal data, and we do have to stay vigilant against the companies who seem to be using our data for nefarious purposes. And while it’s wise to stay alert and informed about how your data is being used, there are going to be companies out there that are using their powers for good, not evil. It’s our job, as good consumers, to reward those companies for being good corporate citizens, and to take the benefits that they offer us in return.

Topics: Data Management , Privacy and Preference Management