LONDON: Data policy will be the next competitive battleground as consumers and governments place brands' data management under increasing scrutiny, an industry figure argues.

Instead of perceiving it as a problem to solve, brands should see "see the responsible approach to data management as an opportunity to build trust with their customers," according to JWT's Marie Stafford in a new WARC Best Practice paper, How to manage consumer data responsibly.

."It's time to integrate data management into CSR strategies, treat privacy as a purpose, and commit to continuous ethical and responsible use," she says.

Brands have seen increasing awareness of privacy among consumers for some time. JWT research across a seven-market sample found that a third of people worldwide use mobile apps to protect privacy and a fifth use encryption tools.

Elsewhere, Stafford notes, millions of consumers "frustrated by ad-clogged browsing experiences … have opted to put themselves beyond the reach of advertisers by installing an ad blocker".

But the numbers utilising such tools remain a minority. "The fear of missing out on exciting apps or services often overpowers a diligent approach to checking the fine print [of the terms and conditions for the use of data]," She notes. "Thus consent is often uninformed."

Stafford recommends clarity and openness about what data brands need and why, giving consumers more control over how and what they share. Similarly, privacy policies should become clearer, simpler, and more concise. Then keep it safe.

"Know what you have, audit it and keep it as secure as possible – always treat it as if it might be personally identifiable: remember it is possible to combine data sets to identify individuals using just three or four bits of anonymous data.

Regulatory penalties for sloppy data management are severe. In 2016 the UK's Information Commissioner fined TalkTalk a record sum of £400,000 for security failures that left the telco's customer data vulnerable to hackers during a data breach.

"Understanding the data you hold is critical to security and transparency," says Stafford. "For this reason, consider data minimisation – only keep the data you need."

Beyond security, provide customers with value: "If people see an immediate personal benefit in sharing data – whether it be utility, convenience or just pleasure – they are more likely to want to share."

Data sourced from WARC