The Role of Responsibility In The New Digital Age

 Keynote speaker, Eric Schmidt, pushed the point that people aren't as safe as they think they are; and that the reason for secrecy — especially with regard to the government — must be very narrowly defined to be acceptable.

Keynote speaker, Eric Schmidt, pushed the point that people aren't as safe as they think they are; and that the reason for secrecy — especially with regard to the government — must be very narrowly defined to be acceptable.

SXSW was an interesting experience this year. Being a little older than the last time I went, different things stood out as being worthwhile. Despite becoming the largest clusterfuck of brand activities, something much bigger than marketing and advertising stole my attention; and seemingly the attention of several keynote speakers.

Two frequently covered topics at SXSW were big data and the quantified self. Big data in and of itself is not a new idea. But when you pair it with ideals of the quantified self, big data becomes much more personal than how many times people tweeted or Googled "Pepsi".

Every day we lengthen our digital paper trail with the most intimate details about who we are. The question becomes: Who owns this data? Do you? Does Google? Do brands? Does the government?

Underwriting EVERYTHING at SXSW this year, both on the keynote stage, and in the bowels of the surrounding conference rooms, was the question of privacy, secrecy, and invariably, responsibility.

And it's not surprising. Following the massive reveal of the NSA's PRISM program, it became apparent that we all need to be more responsibile with the data we create and collect about ourselves and each other.

During his keynote, Julian Assange said: "Now that the Internet has merged with human society, the laws of human society should apply to the Internet."

So much data is being created by people who know so little about its use, and rarely is there a fair value exchange, let alone transparency about how that data is utilized. On stage, Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, made the apt point, both for brands and governments, that the role and purpose for secrecy needs to narrowly defined to be acceptable.

We've all seen a glimpse at the potential future of retail. Location tracking. Predictive offers. Facial recognition. It’s a redefinition of the shopping experience, and represents an area of intense interest for many brands, retailers, and agencies. Pretty much anyone who sells something.

But as the hackneyed Uncle Ben phrase goes, "with great power, comes great responsibility."

As we clamor to unlock these opportunities, we must remain cognizant of our responsibility to provide an even exchange of value.

More often than not, consumers hand over more information than they realize they are. In exchange for the chance to win a prize or a .25 cents off coupon, they may be forking over their location data, information about their friends, or permission to speak on their behalf.

It's a generally accepted notion that people are willing to part with their data and privacy if they're given something in exchange. But with the value of consumer data rising — and the ability of collecting it getting easier — we should be paying the proper price; even if consumers don't realize an exchange is happening. That price is the responsibility of designing better experiences for our customers.

So, as we enter this new digital age, marked by a merging of worlds and the rising value of information, let’s consider how we as marketers can use this newfound power to both reap and reward our customers. The things that are now possible in-store tread a fine line with regard to privacy concerns. 

But if we charge ourselves with the responsibility of providing an even value exchange, then we foster a give and take relationship with our customers in which everyone wins.