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Data to the User!


NEW YORK – Customer data is a concept that most companies, especially those involved with health and health care, see as a threat rather than an opportunity. Most companies associate consumer data with “privacy,” seeing only expensive disclosure requirements, constraints on their ability to collect information about their customers, and a potential source of legal trouble.

So they consult lawyers and IT risk specialists to consider their options. To protect against being sued, they write lengthy disclosure statements that cover every possible use of consumers’ data. They then hand these statements to their marketing departments, who hide them behind little windows in small type.

In general, these companies see consumer data as something that they can use to target ads or offers, or perhaps that they can sell to third parties, but not as something that consumers themselves might want. In fact, many so-called privacy advocates have the same constricted vision. Most pundits on either side don’t consider that  that rather than hiding from consumers or protecting them, companies should be bringing them into the game.

Over time, I’m convinced, successful companies will turn personal data into an asset by giving it back to their customers in an enhanced form – analyzed and visualized into something of value to the individuals themselves. I am not sure exactly how this will happen, but current players will either join this revolution or lose out.

Let’s start with the disclosure statement. Most disclosure statements are not designed to be read; they are designed to be consented to. But some companies actually want their customers to read and understand the statements. They don’t want customers who might sue, and, just in case, they want to be able to prove that the customers did understand the risks. A regretful customer is a vengeful one.  (The very best companies want this because they like their customers to understand what they’re getting.)

So the leaders in disclosure statements right now tend to be financial and health-care companies – as well as my favorites, space-travel and extreme-sports vendors. Right now,  some clinical trial operators and the “extreme” companies are doing the best job – perhaps in part because some of their customers actually appreciate the element of riskContinue reading…

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