Five Ways to Avoid the Big Brother Stigma as a Big Data Company

The term big data is a fairly new phrase that has been thrown around by companies as a marketing tool, promising to make our lives easier. You want to date, but not deal with having dinner with someone who doesn’t share a thing in common with you?  No problem—there are now dating sites that takes care of the hard part by matching you with someone with similar interests, with the help of big data.  And the more data consumers are willing to give up, the more services companies will create around analytics, recommendations and highly targeted advertising campaigns.

It’s all around us. There is no escaping it. That could be rather creepy to think about, especially since we should’ve seen this day coming. George Orwell predicted something like this happening in his novel 1984. We have seemingly entered the “big brother” era, but as a company, you may not want that stigma attached to your service, lest it scare away your customers.  This is a real topic that will only grow in importance, and the company that earns the most consumer trust will be in the best position to leverage big data for the future services market.

Here are five ways your company can avoid a bad big brother reputation.

Be Transparent

Don’t hide anything from consumers. Keeping them in the loop about all aspects of your company will gain trust. In this era of technology, whatever information is hidden will not stay in the dark for very long. Take Dropbox, for example.  When it was criticized for not telling the entire truth about how private users’ files truly are, trouble soon followed. The consumer cloud company first claimed that employees did not have access to stored information because of its being encrypted on their servers, yet the statement was later proven untrue due to the fact that employees did have access to the encryption keys, so the data was not so private after all.


The key is to be transparent about your information, yet keep the consumers’ information private. Treat the business—consumer relationship like a close friendship. Be an open book to them and ensure that their information is in safe hands, which will, in return, give them a reason to trust your company. Target’s pregnancy-assumption incident is the perfect example of what a company should not do. To have a father discover his teenage daughter’s pregnancy through data collected by a large corporation is a complete nightmare.

As Loggly CEO Charlie Oppenheimer describes it, consumers can feel “violated, angry and a bit creeped out” if a company takes their information and then makes assumptions about their needs.  Say, for example, a man does a search for Viagra and then is bombarded with ads about marriage counseling.  Not a good look.

Give consumers power over their data

It’s human nature to want to be in control. The minute we feel we’ve lost control is when we begin to panic.  So finding a balance between the service your customer provides and the access and control the consumer has over the data they’ve provided is key. The mobile app Saga, for example, collects data as it learns patterns of activity and then gives users recommendations based on those patterns, so there is a balanced relationship between consumer and business.

According to Oppenheimer, Google is also another great example of a consumer-business fair trade relationship.  “Google collects all sorts of data about our searching habits,” he says.  “And they use that data not only for their own purposes but also to provide search suggestions as you type.  It’s amazing how good and fast those suggestions are.”


Encrypting information keeps it safe from identity thieves and hackers. The last thing you want is for your company to end up in a similar mess like the UK’s City Council when details of a child-protection case fell into the hands of a random person due to lack of encryption. The Council was fined by the ICO for its careless mistake.

Consumer education

Consumers need to also be aware of what they are signing up for and at what expense. As I said before, this is a give and take relationship. You have to give a little to gain a little. Consumers need to understand that the information they are willing to put out runs the risk of being exposed, so be aware of what is being blasted out there.  Companies will have to take on more responsibility when it comes to consumer education, as Facebook tries to do with the regular changes made to profiles, news feeds and privacy settings, posting blogs and displaying alerts for users to read.

Like any relationship, whether romantic or business-consumer, trust should always be at the base. Oppenheimer hit the nail on the head with how a company should treat the information given to them by consumers.

“One of the things I always say to my company is that we have to treat customer information as precious: Valuable as gold and protected like a military secret.  If you start that with those kind of values, you don’t tend to make the kind of dumb decisions that fractures trust.”