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Democratize the Data

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Democratize the Data

My latest phone update bestowed upon me a screen time app. I love it just as much as my CFOW colleague, Caroline, who has already...

7 Minutes Read

My latest phone update bestowed upon me a screen time app. I love it just as much as my CFOW colleague, Caroline, who has already written about it. The application shows me all sorts of data on how I use my phone; number of alerts per day, how many times I picked the phone up, and how much time I spend using the phone. I can even view the time I spend using each individual app. After making peace with the embarrassingly large amount of time I spend on the device, I have quickly incorporated the feature into my daily routine and thus began “reclaiming my time.” Representative Maxine Waters would be proud. While granular access to my screen time data has diminished the amount of time I use my phone (slightly), it has made me more productive. Thus, I value the device more for making me more cognizant of my overall use of time. The experience with this app got me wondering, how might I be more productive or more pleased with life if other brands got into the act of returning my own data to me?

Brands possess mountains of information on you and I. Google can tell me exactly how long you spend reading this post, what led you to it and what action you take next. Our “Code Halos” follow us from the moment we wake up to the moment we return to bed and even through the night as we toss and turn with Fitbits on our wrists. Which of those industries could surprise and delight their customers by returning their data back to them?

Automotive/Mass transit

With the exception of ubiquitous mobile devices, we spend more time with our cars than any other product. Driving to work. Stopping for dinner. Running weekend errands. Driving back home. Aside from a few lucky metropolitan areas with extensive mass transit services, the personal car is paramount to personal mobility. All the time spent in our increasingly connected cars amounts to a mountain of data. The information mined from these experiences becomes even more valuable when compared to the aggregate data captured across an entire city or region. When equipped with the knowledge of how much time we spend in our daily commute, business leaders are better prepared to decide flexible work schedules or remote working options. And the workers spending hours per day in their cars have data to better argue for the same at companies that lag behind on schedule flexibility.

Food Services

I’ve got a terrible habit of gorging on sweets. Cookies, cakes, brownies, and all sorts of baked goods have me under their spell. While I’m sure that grocers would hate for me to have some sort of spreadsheet with the amount I spend per month on my sugary vices, they could certainly benefit by offering me healthy alternatives to satiate my cravings. And given that alternatives like fresh fruits tend to be more expensive and perishable than the aforementioned snacks, there is greater opportunity for revenue growth when I am faced with the data behind my food purchases. An alert that tells me “Hey, this is your third cookie of the day. How about a fuji apple instead?” might be a bit annoying initially, but it is just the type of reminder I need to kick the excessive sugar consumption habit.

Cable & Streaming Services

Similar to the retailers, entertainment services would be hesitant to serve users data about hours of use out of fear that they’d scare them away. However, Netflix and similar services can instead serve users with suggestions about other content. Most viewers don’t see TV or video content as inherently bad, but understand that certain types of content are less beneficial. Similar to Screen Time’s limit on certain apps, the TV service providers could direct viewers to more educational or uplifting content when their preset “mindless browsing” time constraint is reached.

Financial Institutions

The bank may not be in my pocket at all times, but in a capitalistic society every move we make is a transaction of some sort. Financial services may represent the biggest missed opportunity on the list. Whether through cash, credit, or debit banks have access to all of our spending habits. Data on when we purchase, where, and the types of products or services that receive most of our hard-earned dollars is incessantly mined by financial service companies. I’ll admit I lost several hours in the wormhole of spending habits when my bank first introduced a feature that categorized that information on its mobile app. While a flat out card decline would induce great embarrassment for customers, alerts when user approaches or surpass pre-selected budgetary restrictions could have the same impact on spending that Screen Time has had on my phone use.

Returning data to customers doesn’t require massive IT resources or even much of a change in processes in some instances. My local library system takes a low tech, low investment data share and makes it into a delightful experience. With each book I check out, my receipt tells me how much I saved by using the library’s copy and how much I have saved over the year. I’d happily continue to use the library’s services without such engagement, but the inclusion of savings data on my receipt makes me value the institution even more. And when they come calling for donations or volunteer opportunities, I happily oblige.

The first concern with any data collection apparatus is safety. How are brands protecting and properly shepherding the data on daily habits of users? Making the data available to users does not add any additional risks unless users poorly manage their own account security. In the case of making daily use data available to users, brands risk informing their users in such a way that reduces use of the product or service. While this may be possible (it has happened to an extent with my phone usage) the loyalty and goodwill it engenders negates customer attrition.

As with any data collection, the threat of surveillance always looms. What seemed like science fiction from an episode of Black Mirror just a few years ago is now reality in China, where citizens data points from various aspects of life are aggregated as part of a social credit score. Their data has been returned to them, but unfortunately it has become a double-edged sword, wielded as a weapon of the state. The system is now used to ban citizens from certain activities or opportunities.

Consumers should be aware of how much value they provide to companies simply by using their services. And the next logical step in this process is returning that value to the people. Paying for those services or the content created. While personal accountability is at the heart of all this, nobody is always “on it” when it comes to good habits. We can all use a little nudge to stay on track from time to time.


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