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Unlimited access: Is the age of free customer data over?

12th Dec 2013
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Big data may have been big business for awhile now, but it's spear of influence could be finished already.

Whether the notion that businesses have had an ‘all-access’ pass in a perceived  golden age of customer data is neither here nor there according to new research that shows half (49%) of customers will be less willing to share personal information with companies online in the next five years.

Furthermore, 71% of business executives have not yet started to prepare for a future where access to customer data is not free or unlimited.

The problems could be compounded further still as society gets more savvy towards how they share their information.

A recent survey by EY, an advisory services company, has suggested businesses are ill-prepared for a world where customer data is no longer free to be captured.

A quarter of executives have also admitted they do not know what will be the main source for their business to obtain customer data from in ten years.

Currently, many businesses are gathering data through social media interaction, web browsing behaviour, previous purchases and ad-clicks.

However, if the future follows the increasing trend of consumers placing higher restrictions on the information they share, these business could face problems.

The research revealed that 48% of senior decision makers are currently reliant on consumer generated data interaction.

Steve Wilkinson, EY’s Managing Partner for UK & Ireland markets, commented on the findings: “Today’s customers know the information that brands are collecting. Everything from web browsing behaviour to social media and interactions with the brand can be used to improve business processes, decisions, customer experiences, and identify competitive differentiators.

“However, many customers have recognised that businesses are using their personal information to help grow revenues, and are starting to withdraw access to their private data.”

‘Big data backlash’

While many business executives are unsure of whether the access to data will change, just a fifth are concerned that customers will restrict access.

Wilkinson, however, warns that “a backlash is building among consumers who are no longer willing to share their personal data and starting to restrict the information they provide to companies”.

He describes companies current attitudes towards the prospect as “laissez faire”.


Despite four in 10 consumers agreeing that they would be more willing to share personal data with companies is incentivised to do so, three quarters (76%) of businesses are not prepared to incentivise or directly pay customers for their personal data.

Wilkinson said this shows a start contract in the way businesses and consumers view private data sharing.

“Given the high volumes of businesses that rely on customer insights, organisations need to rethink how they can engage with customers and develop new ways to capture their data in a competitive market.”

So what to the future? Wilkinson gives the impression that the trend towards more private data isn’t going away and rather than businesses investing in big data schemes, they need to “start reviewing existing schemes to future-proof investments after the ‘golden age’ of free information comes to an end.”

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