This morning, my colleague Hector Arthur pointed me to a new report from Ovum's Mark Little knowing I'd have a few comments to make. In the corresponding blog post – "Big Trust is Big Data’s missing DNA" – Mark kicks off with:

In the rush to monetize customer data, companies risk diminishing the trust people have in services and brands. Sustaining and growing people’s trust in services is not just about “doing the right thing,” but also makes commercial sense.

As I like to say in other words, big data is worth more when wielded with customers rather than at them. Ovum calls this approach Big Trust.

Big Trust strategies are designed to build “trust equity” with customers as a basis for making core services stickier, for selling new services, and for brokering personal data to commerce under a new set of trust principles.

Public relations

The outlook is informed, directly or indirectly I know not, by the excellence theory of public relations presented by James E Grunig more than twenty years ago, which champions the two-way symmetrical PR model. This model uses communication to negotiate with the public, resolve conflict and promote mutual understanding and respect between the organization and its stakeholders. My Six Influence Flows model from 2011 extends this work for the digital / social / big data age, and you can find out more about PR models in my post here if it's your thing.

Of course, this is not how the majority of practitioners practice PR, deferring instead to publicity and 'spin', which may be associated more closely with distrust than trust. But excellent practice is championed if, as a shrewd procurer, you know where to look.

For example, former CEO and President of Edelman EMEA, Robert Phillips, left Edelman to found Jericho Chambers for just this reason, and his outlook is captured unambiguously in the title of his upcoming book, "Trust Me, PR is Dead". The title invokes the t-word for good reason. And Vanessa Dimauro has been designing and developing online B2B communities for longer than anyone else I know, and the intent to build trust runs deeply through her work.

According to my dictionary, trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something. Notably then, the first two of the Page Principles are:

Tell the truth. Let the public know what’s happening and provide an accurate picture of the company’s character, ideals and practices.

Prove it with action. Public perception of an organization is determined 90 percent by what it does and 10 percent by what it says.

In its 2009 report, The Dynamics of Public Trust, the Arthur W. Page Society identifies three core dynamics of trust, all of which apply in the context here of course but with the third speaking loudest:

Mutuality – that is based upon shared values or interests
Balance of Power – where risks and opportunities are shared by parties
Trust Safeguards – that limit vulnerability in the context of power imbalances

The Intention Economy

The Intention EconomyIf your interest is piqued by Mark's blog post, you should read The Intention Economy by Doc Searls. First mooted in this 2006 post, the idea is described as follows in the inside cover:

While marketers look for more ways to get personal with customers, including new tricks with “big data,” customers are about to get personal in their own ways, with their own tools. Soon consumers will be able to:

• Control the flow and use of personal data
• Build their own loyalty programs
• Dictate their own terms of service
• Tell whole markets what they want, how they want it, where and when they should be able to get it, and how much it should cost

And they will do all of this outside of any one vendor’s silo.

If you don't have time to read the book, spend an hour with Doc here – it'll change the way you see things.


Ethics of Big DataI'm not as well read on ethics in the round as I should be, but if your focus is big data from an ethical perspective then this short book is designed to serve, Ethics of Big Data. It's a little repetitive at times, and invests too much time on the corporate rather than societal in my opinion, but even if it doesn't provide all the answers, it'll leave you with a deeper appreciation for some of the questions.

I must also direct you to Chapter 8 on ethics in Strategic Public Relations by Professor Anne Gregory and Paul Willis of the Centre for Public Relations Studies at Leeds Business School, (see my earlier blog post).

Rethinking personal data

While we're on this topic, it would be negligent of me not to point you to the excellent reports from the World Economic Forum on Rethinking Personal Data. The following table is from its February 2013 report Unlocking the Value of Personal Data: From Collection to Usage (PDF), Figure 2 on page 7 to be precise.

Once you've digested it, ask yourself what exactly might be meant by data ownership these days.

Traditional approach New perspective
Data actively collected with user awareness Most data from machine to machine transactions and passive collection – difficult to notify individuals
Definition of personal data is predetermined and binary Definition of personal data is contextual and dependent on social norms
Data collected for specified use Economic value and innovation come from combining data sets and subsequent uses
User is the data subject User can be the data subject, the data controller, and/or data processor
Individual provides legal consent but is not truly engaged Individuals engage and understand how data is used and how value is created
Policy framework focuses on minimising risks to the individual Policy focuses on balancing protection with innovation and economic growth

MIT's Alex 'Sandy' Pentland is associated with the 'Unlocking' work, so I'll finish here with his short TEDxCambridge video from 2011. I trust you'll like it.