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How to tread the fine line between personalisation and privacy

Esther Tham
Esther Tham3/27/2023 10:15 AM GMT+08  • 4 min read
How to tread the fine line between personalisation and privacy
Here's how organisations can adopt data privacy as a core part of their personalisation technology toolkit. Photo: Unsplash
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Personalisation has been a game changer for the Asia Pacific technology industry in the past decade. Today, consumers are accustomed to receiving fast and seamless brand experiences that are highly attuned to their individuality and preferences. However, the technology and developer communities are now straddling a fine line between personalisation and a seismic shift against browser targeting, tracking and data sharing.

Although hanging in a delicate balance, personalisation and consumer privacy are not as mutually exclusive as they first appear. Instead of swapping one for the other, technologists will need to take a more nuanced and thoughtful approach to reach consumers in the digital world.

The reality is that we live in a world where connected devices are prevalent and where consumers are comfortable using and affording them. Personalisation is more likely to spark consumer attention and increase satisfaction and interaction. Given the extreme brand competition in Asia Pacific, missing the mark on personalised content and experiences means losing a chance to build a relationship with a customer.

Building a personal connection with the brand makes it feel exclusive to a customer. This gives the brand a sharper edge over its competitor and helps in the ongoing battle to acquire and retain customers. However, it is clear now that all these experiences must be developed with data consideration in mind. In 2023, data flows everywhere: every day, vast amounts of data are collected, stored and disseminated both inside and outside a company.

The hazards of this data collection for business owners and consumers alike have never been higher due to an increase in the number of leaks and breaches occurring globally. Following the lead of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), data protection regulations in the Asia Pacific region are tightening, presenting real-world consequences for brands should data be misappropriated. On a consumer front, customer data integrity and privacy was cited as a concern when their organisation considers when building or investing in new technologies.

Mitigating these risks begins with a mindset shift. Technology and business leaders need to adopt a framework that factors in seven key principles: proactive security; data privacy as the default setting; privacy embedded into the design; full-functionality to avoid trade-offs between security and capability; end-to-end cyber security; visibility and transparency and finally, a user-centric system that respects the customer’s privacy.

See also: Singapore to encourage development of international AI standards by open sourcing AI Verify

Transparency and consent

Once fundamental principles are in place, the industry can then make the shift into adopting data privacy as a core part of its personalisation technology toolkit.

When building a solution, for example, technologists can still consider the customer's pain points but also reflect on how much personal data is really necessary to collect to create the personalised experience, and how much customers are willing to divulge for the said experience. In addition, it’s important to consider how you are protecting your customer's data, and how that is communicated with them.

See also: Singapore to encourage adoption of quantum-safe technologies

One method is to design a service design blueprint, which can map gaps in the process as it reaches customer touch points. Layering rewards over the service design is a useful way of helping customers understand the value exchange. Critically, it’s important to be mindful of the effect on both the customer and the brand in the event of a data leak. Finally, technologists can turn to artificial intelligence and machine learning. These can track a customer's preference over time while also tapping into similar user profiles to create highly personalised and unique experiences.

In the post-cookie world, this will mean a return to using first-party – rather than third-party – data and seeking consent to use tracking technology. Consumers have long become disenchanted with finding their social media feeds peppered with hotel advertisements after a brief visit to a travel agent site. Rather than continue risking customer ire – and therefore loyalty –, brands will need to end this surveillance-like behaviour. Instead, they should bring the customer on a journey willingly and enthusiastically.

Personalisation and privacy do not have to be the Catch-22 situation it is perceived to be. While consumers may have more concerns about where and how their data is used, they also still value a personalised experience. The future of advertising technology will depend on meeting these dichotomies somewhere in the middle. Technologists and organisations have to ensure transparency, consent, and consumer-centricity underpin any new application. Data may be more valuable than oil, but a customer’s lifetime loyalty is priceless.

Esther Tham is the lead consultant at Thoughtworks SEA

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