Editor: What makes you think that 2019 is going to be different?
Bill: In the past most consumers simply trusted that technology would work and that companies would use their data responsibly. In 2018 all of this changed …. forever. The introduction of GDPR was followed by a series of high profile incidents that has shaken the trust that consumers have in companies and in brands, and it is going to take years to recover from this and to rebuild the overall level of trust.
For software and technology companies, the link between data privacy and corporate responsibility is relatively straightforward. For the very first time, industry analyst firm Gartner has named digital ethics and privacy as one of the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2019. The Gartner report says that, “any discussion on privacy must be grounded in the broader topic of digital ethics and the trust of your customers, constituents and employees. While privacy and security are foundational components in building trust, trust is actually more than just these components. Trust is the acceptance of the truth of a statement without evidence or investigation. Ultimately an organisation’s position on privacy must be driven by its broader position on ethics and trust. Shifting from privacy to ethics moves the conversation beyond, ‘are we compliant’ toward ‘are we doing the right thing’”.
Even in non-tech industries, however, privacy has become a major issue. 80% of UK consumers surveyed by FleishmanHillard Fishburn have stopped using the products and services of a company because the company’s response to an issue does not support their personal views.
The research report from FleishmanHillard Fishburn entitled ‘The Dying Days of Spin’ looked at the issues that were most important to consumers across all industries and sectors (not just tech). Many of the issues that it found to be of greatest concern, such as healthcare and education, were ones that consumers expected the government to act on. Interestingly, though, the main issues that consumers expected companies to act on are now security and privacy, surpassing things like diversity and sustainability that had previously topped this list.
In addition, a recent Harris Poll, conducted in partnership with Finn Partners, revealed that data privacy is now the number one issue that Americans (65%) believe companies should be addressing, followed by access to healthcare (61%), supporting veterans (59%), education (56%) and job creation (56%).
Digital ethics now needs to be a core value for businesses – and if they are to be authentic then it has to become part of their culture. Issues like data privacy and security should not be seen simply in terms of compliance – where all too often organisations simply adopt a tick box attitude. Nor should they be seen as solely the remit of the IT department – when all parts of the business use data and the reputation of the whole organisation is at stake if things go wrong, digital ethics needs to be taken seriously right across the business.
And an ethical approach should not be seen as an overhead or cost, but as a means of ensuring better alignment with your customers’ values, as well as a potential source of competitive advantage over less ethical rivals. The UK Department for Media, Culture and Sport has updated the Data Ethics Framework aimed at public sector saying, “Ethics and innovation are not mutually exclusive. Thinking carefully about how we use our data can help us be better at innovating when we use it.”
The idea that ethics and innovation are not mutually exclusive is critical here. Companies need to strike the right balance between digital transformation ‘changing the world’ and digital ethics ‘doing the right thing’. Tactics for achieving this can vary, but as the following case study shows, influencer marketing and employee advocacy can be used to great effect, even with the most limited of budgetary resources and manpower.
I discuss all of this and a great deal more in a white paper that I recently co-authored with Philippe Borremans – you can get a copy here.