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Are You the Steward of Your Social Identity?

This blog attempts to answer the following questions:

  1. As an individual, can you take control of your social identity?
  2. As a brand, are you collecting the right amount of data?

The eMarketer report Marketers Scramble to Unscramble Customer Data found that:

77% of US digital media and marketing professionals increased their data collection process over the past year.”

Are You the Steward of Your Social Identity? image eMarketer Data Collecting stats 600x436

But while digital marketers are collecting as much data as possible to better personalize and target brand messages, consumers are getting increasingly concerned about their privacy and identity theft.

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What Does the Term Social Identity Mean?

In their report, “Leveraging Social Identities”, Charlene Li and Andrew Jones of Altimeter Group define the term social identity and explain how relevant data can be collected so brands can build 1:1 relationships.

Social Identity:

  • Personal Profile Data
  • Social Activity

Capturing Social Identity

The slide below lists ways to capture social identities sorted by the increasing level of difficulty:

Are You the Steward of Your Social Identity? image Capturing ID Altimeter 600x472

The Lure of the Social Sign-On

Consumers

If you are like me, you like the convenience of logging in with your Twitter or LinkedIn account – called social sign-on – when the opportunity presents itself; so that you don’t have to remember yet another password.

Mobile devices like cell phones and tablets – which generally have smaller screens – have accelerated the social sign-on trend; particularly for apps.

As of Q2 2014, Facebook is the clear leader in social sign-ons:

Are You the Steward of Your Social Identity? image facebook vs google social login preferences 600x487

Chart by Orpha Buena via PopHerald.com; data from Gigya.com.

Brands

Social sign-ons are great news for marketers, as the convenience they offer can increase registrations and other (potential) buyer engagement in marketing campaigns.

The social sign-on information can then be used to match individuals with existing records in a CRM system to create more complete personas. As a result, marketing messages can become even more relevant in regards to product, place, promotion, and even price.

  • Consumers will appreciate that they receive less spam and more personalized communications. Or at least that is the nirvana.

When I brought up the topic with my husband, CTO at security start up Lookingglass Cyber Solutions, he said: “I would NEVER use social sign-on”.

What If (Only) You Owned Your Data?

A number of startups offer to help you own your social identity by storing it in a single place and then letting you decide how much of it you’d like to share. Depending on the amount of data you are sharing (with brands), you will be compensated. In effect, the startup is brokering your data. They include:

Handshake

”Did you know that companies spend over $2 billion a year in the US alone to buy personal data from data brokers? But when was the last time you got a check in the post for the information about you that is being sold?”

Datacoup

“For too long, your data has lined the pockets of just about everyone except you. Datacoup helps you aggregate, package and sell your personal data. Finally, you can earn money and peace of mind from your data.”

citizenme

Who should control your digital soul? Cookie Monsters, Identity Thieves, Big Brother or You?”

Meeco

“I think people are just starting to realize that these large companies are acting as silos and that making ‘us’ the product is a form of digital feudalism.”

~ Katryna Dow, CEO, Meeco (The Rise of the Personal Data Marketplace.)

Forgive Me For Being Confused

How does centralizing and selling your data yourself prevent the existing data brokers from continuing to collect and sell your social identity?

  • How does it prevent unauthorized data brokers from filling in the gaps in your social identity, with the information you have chosen not to share?
  • Why would I trust some company with my (aggregated) social identity data? How can they guarantee to protect it?

It seems that never has there been a bigger incentive and clearer target for a hacker who wants to steal your identity.

These new startups seem to position themselves as altruistic privacy defenders when in fact they are out to make a buck on your social identity; albeit with your consent. If I got this wrong, I’d like to hear the defense, please!

The other BIG question is: would consumers actually provide accurate information?

  • Would they not try to set up fake identities to increase the amount of money they could earn?
  • What is their incentive to provide information that is correct (apart from avoiding getting spammed)?

openPDS

The solution MIT suggests is for you to own your own data and to share only code instead of data. They admit to some unresolved challenges, but as Dirk Helbing, professor of sociology at ETH Zurich puts it: “I don’t see another way of making big data compatible with constitutional rights and human rights.”

Example: “Instead of you sending data to Pandora, for Pandora to define what your musical preferences are, it’s Pandora sending a piece of code to you for you to define your musical preferences and send it back to them.”

As openPDS is currently in beta testing, the jury is still out on the long-term viability of this approach.

What is the Solution?

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to protecting your social identity. Even if you were completely disconnected (and that means not even having a mobile phone), there would most probably still be information available about you online (e.g. pictures you are tagged in).

  • As a consumer, the most promising approach, I believe, is to minimize the amount of data you share (e.g. avoid social sign-ons). You can also sign up for services like LifeLock, or set up alerts to be informed of any transaction on your bank account. Constant monitoring is one of the most effective approaches so you can take corrective action quickly.
  • For brands, the question is at what point collecting data to personalize the consumer’s experience is adversely impacted by the consumer’s concern for their privacy.

As the example How Target figured out a girl was pregnant before her father did proves, if consumers feel that Big Brother is watching they “get creeped out”.

So What is the Right Balance?

Treat your clients like you would want to be treated: Give them reason to trust you. Be transparent. Be honest.

I like how @BenjaminPring of Cognizant put it during a recent #CodeHalos Tweetchat:

“Tell your customers what you know about them.“

That sounds like a good start.

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