Big data is a hot topic at the moment, but what is ‘big data’ exactly? According to Lewis and Westlund, big data refers to data sets that are too large for standard computer memory and software to process. By analyzing big data you can reveal patterns, trends, and associations. Big data gives us the opportunity to integrate information from different sources and recognize/predict various patterns. These patterns are usually related to human interactions and behavior. With this, big data could be very important for the implementation of marketing activities.
For instance, when you are the marketing manager of the Dutch supermarket cooperation Albert Heijn. Albert Heijn makes use of the “Bonus-card”, a card with which you retrieve discounts on products who are in the “Bonus”. Every time your card gets scanned, Albert Heijn receives information about your consumer behavior and interactions (e.g. you come every day to buy at least one Tony’s chocolate bar). So Albert Heijn knows what you are going to eat this day or week. By means of the Bonus-card they can effectively design marketing campaigns (e.g. hamster weken) because they have insight in you as customer. Almost all regular customers of Albert Heijn have a Bonus-card so it is a smart way to gather data and, subsequently, predict purchase behavior.
In the example above I wrote about data collection in a physical environment, but the same (and probably more easy and often) happens in the non-physical environment, such as the Internet. The Internet has numerous ways to retrieve data (cookies, Google, YouTube, social media interactions, location-based services etc.). Some ballpark figures of real-time data online (20/11/2015 15.00):
- Videos viewed today on YouTube: 6,027,000,000
- Photos uploaded on Instagram: 162,630,000
- Google searches today: 2,787,425,000
- Facebook active users: 1,499,923,000
- Blog posts written today:2,577,000
- Tweets send today: 571,955,000
Data can be implemented for commercial purposes. For instance, when Google knows that you love Tony’s chocolate and you repeatedly purchased it online at Albertheijn.nl, you might receive banners or advertisement of both Albert Heijn and Tony’s chocolate when surfing online. In some respects, both in the offline environment (i.e., Bonus-card) as the online environment (i.e., www.albertheijn.nl) we are being followed, or some would say stalked. A logical follow-up question would be: Is this ethical?
To answer these questions, I would like to give special attention to social medium Facebook as it is very popular and it is a medium that retrieves lots of data. Facebook collects data on the basis of your own activities on Facebook (e.g. posting a picture of you and Tony), but also when other networks or people deliver information about you. Hence, privacy depends on your friends on Facebook. In addition, Facebook assembles data concerning payments, device usage and data from websites that collaborate with Facebook, such as advertisers. This is what they say on their ‘privacy page’. But, what is the deal with image recognition and extracting data from that. Eric Postma mentioned that faces, emotions and objects can be recognized in images. If Facebook starts using this technique, more questions could be raised with regards to privacy and ethics.
But, that is not the only thing that they do; Facebook carries out research with Facebook-users as (unknown) participants. Kramer, Guillory and Hancock did a research about emotion contagion through Facebook. In their study they showed that when more positive posts were suppressed in people’s news feed, less positive expressions were posted. When negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. An interesting study, but (again) questions arise about ethics as participants were not aware of their participation.
In all, lots of data is assembled though Facebook, but are Facebook-users aware of this? In my opinion, people should be made aware of the activities of Facebook; the image processing, their research studies, and all other data gathering activities. Smith, Szongott, Henne and von Voigt also seem to agree with this. By creating awareness, people get a real choice to unsubscribe if they feel their privacy is invaded. Although I think that most people are aware of the fact that posting information online can be traced back to you, some people are not aware of this (e.g. children). Also, as I mentioned earlier, your privacy is depended on your friend.
To conclude, big data creates opportunities for marketers but it also raises questions about privacy and ethical dilemmas. Both Albert Heijn and Facebook retrieve data and use it for their own commercial purposes, but they do it differently. Now my question to you is “Would you be more comfortable with the Albert Heijn approach or with the Facebook approach?”