According to Jane Frost, CEO of Britain's Market Research Society, a group representing companies working in market, social and opinion research, market analysis, customer insight and consultancy, they may have good reason.
"Innovative use of data for research and for big business is developing rapidly, but approaches to data privacy are not -- and this is creating an ethical gray area," she told Information Week. "Consumer trust in data sharing is taking a beating, and organizations need to commit to ethical data sharing that respects personal privacy or risk jeopardizing their relationship with consumers."
[ Do you worry about how companies are handling your personal information? Read Online Privacy Worries Increasing Worldwide. ]
Frost works closely with the U.K. watchdog group the Office of the Information Commissioner. She has also worked as a marketer for Shell, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the BBC, where she managed big data strategies and helped inform commercial decisions.
She noted that a vast amount of data is now readily available to organizations. "In most cases, data is being used in a way that we as consumers accept and are happy with. However, there have been an increasing amount of incidents where data has been used for purposes it was not meant to be."
As a result, Frost said, "Consumer concern is growing and data protection is becoming a serious issue." At least 58% of inquiries to the Market Research Society's confidential advisory service were related to data collection, integrity and use in 2011/12 alone, up from 43% the previous year.
The Society recently launched an initiative called Fair Data a branding exercise meant to show worried British consumers that the commercial organization bearing the label is using and retaining their data properly and ethically. The initiative is intended to work alongside statutory regulations such as the U.K.'s Data Protection Act and the Office of the Information Commissioner to help suppliers not only adhere to the legislative requirements but "go beyond them in their corporate commitments to be transparent with consumers about how they data is used." The Fair Data logo can be used only when an applicant agrees to ten core principles.
But beyond the marketing and corporate social responsibility, Frost pointed out, technology leaders play a key role. "CIOs are often responsible for managing, accessing and handling the data a company has on its customers," she said. "On the majority of occasions, they get it right."
The real concern, Frost alleged, is when it comes to sharing this data with other departments within the business. "CIOs need to ensure that data protection is a priority across the business and that there is a clear strategy and set of guidelines for everyone who is given access to customers' personal data."
For example, data is increasingly being collected in real time and used by marketing departments to make key commercial decisions. The Society advises IT leaders to "ensure that there is a joined-up approach across the business and [that the] rules of compliance are being followed."
Echoing many of the recommendations of the earlier Economist report, Frost said, "With vast amounts of data now readily available, it is essential that organizations understand how it can be managed ethically and fairly. Ethical business is good business."
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