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Brands rocked by disturbing volume of fake customer data

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28th Apr 2017
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Most senior marketers acknowledge how important customer data is to their future prospects – with almost two-thirds strongly agreeing that data-driven marketing is crucial to success, according to research published by Forbes Insights.

And with organisations attempting to ramp up their data management strategies in order to help them make better business decisions faster, deliver personalised and compelling experiences and define the right goals and KPIs, all customer-facing departments are putting greater emphasis on using data more effectively.

However, a new study indicates that these efforts could be built on foundations made of sand.

With an increasing numbers of organisations demand personal data in exchange for free content or deals internet users are responding by using fake names, made up email addresses and bogus telephone numbers to ensure they are not contacted in the future.

In a finding that undermines business efforts to be more data-driven, it is estimated that up to a third of online customer data could be fake as internet users submit false information to filter out marketing.

The study of 1,000 individuals by data specialists, Wilmington Millennium, found that 23% of internet users regularly provide organisations with false information about themselves in order to curb any follow up marketing activity. This rises to almost one in three (32%) amongst people that use the internet in a business-to-business capacity.

This raises the alarming prospect that up to a third of customer data captured via web forms and stored in customer databases could be fake.

The most common practices were found to be:

  1. Providing a dummy account - a live email address that has been set up purely for signing up to organisations of little interest.
  2. Giving the name of a friend, family member or colleague along with a made up email address relating to that name.
  3. Using the name of a famous person and a made up email address relating to that name e.g. [email protected].
  4. Making up a name and email address.
  5. Deliberately misspelling an actual email address e.g. [email protected].
  6. Changing one or two digits of the actual telephone number.
  7. Making up a telephone number.
  8. Altering the postal address e.g. house number or street name.
  9. Making up a postal address.

The study revealed that internet users were most likely to provide a dummy address or fake name and email address, while postal addresses were the least likely to be falsified with only 3% admitting to purposefully providing incorrect postal information.

Elsewhere, the most at risk sectors were revealed to be business to business organisations, media companies (e.g. newspapers, magazines, streaming services), voucher sites, travel companies, comparison sites, data providers (such as house price aggregators) and retailers. Financial services, government and charities were the least affected sectors.

“The bad news is that organisations are spending money on storing, maintaining and processing fake data,” adds Karen Pritchard, product director at Wilmington Millennium. “The worse news is that the amount of fake data being captured online is likely to increase following the introduction of GDPR once the opt-in clause comes into force.”

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By John Sadler
05th May 2017 02:16

Surely this has been common knowledge for many years? We see this behaviour mostly with our Website generated Leads - been mildly unamused for 8 years.
Some are clearly making a statement as they make it pretty clear the email and/or business name are phony. Others just look like typos. Have had many large Corporates use gmail or hotmail accounts until negotiations are well underway. Have started doing the same myself as I don't want my personal information splashed everywhere. :-)

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By Neil Davey
05th May 2017 10:37

Hi John, thanks for your comment.

It's been common knowledge for years, for sure. But the extent of the problem - with potentially a third of all submitted data being inaccurate - is the kicker, here.

Interesting that you note how many users initially use their PM addresses rather than corporate email - definitely something that is not uncommon practice.

All of which raises the question of how brands can develop greater trust so that users are happier to share their personal information. Can users ever have that level of trust with a brand unless they already have an established relationship with them? And even if they do, is there trust that the organisation can keep their data secure?

All of these issues around trust, privacy and security factor into this discussion, but on the evidence of these research findings, we have a long way to go to finding the solutions.

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