Ethics in the Data Business

In Blog by Travis Meeks

Post by: Dave Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of AnalyticsIQ

I know – the title of this blog perhaps made you laugh a little. Kinda like saying ‘technology in the outhouse business’ or ‘environmentalism in the oil business’.

It is true that the marketing data business draws particularly unsavory characters. Having jumped into this field after a career in risk analytics – I have been shocked at the pervasive lack of concern for the real humans represented in our datasets. I am particularly disgusted by the profit-based obsession of this industry. Don’t get me wrong, the business purpose for any company is to make profits – in part. But equally important is an acknowledgment of other stakeholders in any business: employees, customers, the environment, and society at large.

I am very proud that my firm, AnalyticsIQ, was recently named one of the ’10 most innovative companies’ by the Technology Association of Georgia. But…it is frustrating that it was necessary to spend a portion of our acceptance speech contrasting our approach to the other ‘analytic’ firm in the news.

The reality is that the need for analytics would be greatly minimized if we just grabbed/scraped individual Facebook profiles – I would argue that we know what people are all about at that point, without the need for prediction. AnalyticsIQ has data that is analogous to some of the Cambridge Analytica data – such as political preference, etc. But here is a major difference – we have used hardcore analytics to make these predictions about individuals based solely on public or opt-in data – and we independently validate every one of our predictions.

I can feel good about how we build our data, relying on innovative practices, without having to “cheat” and step on consumer privacy in order to reach our goals. I am more than OK offering 80% accurate solutions that are 100% ethical. Although I have always believed that the future of targeting involves heavy analytics, I admit my faith wavered a bit over the last several years. It seemed that ‘internet scrapers’ were having a lot of success and no one was especially concerned about the privacy implications.

There is a major reckoning coming – led by consumers against Facebook and other users of marketing data. The world is turning. In this new age, here is what I believe is required for any data company CEO to sleep at night:

      • A realization that we have a responsibility to police how our data is captured. ‘Grabbing’ data off the internet does not meet this standard.
      • Empathy for consumers impacted by our data. Working with predatory marketers (while perhaps legal) is unacceptable. If you would not let your elderly parents/grandparents buy a particular product, why are you helping to sell this to others?
      • A very clear mechanism for consumers to ‘opt-out’ of any marketing database.

It’s simple. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A great philosophy for running a data business. And if you are curious – I will sleep great tonight.