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Companies must stick to honest means of collecting data

Rachel Wheeler Archive

It's universally agreed that big data holds the keys to business innovation in the years ahead. By compiling as much knowledge as possible on their customers, their demographic information and the trends that influence their spending decisions, corporate leaders can make educated decisions about their futures. Arguably the most significant element of competition in the business world going forward will be for data, as a 21st century arms race will ensue between corporations looking to compile more information and outsmart their competitors.

Data quality is of course an important component of this competition. Big data is useless if it's not accurate, so companies will need to invest significant resources into verifying as much information as possible. Email verification software can ensure that consumers' contact information has been entered correctly, and address management solutions can be used to further sort and compartmentalize clusters of information.

But there's another step to ensuring the quality of companies' data, and it goes beyond simply checking for factual correctness. Corporate IT departments must also consider the ethical side of data collection. According to 1to1 Magazine, an alarming trend has come over the business world in recent years - third-party collectors of consumers' private information are intercepting data from its first-party owners, such as social media sites, and manipulating it without the consumers' knowledge or consent.

The news source cites Krux's "The State of Data Collection on the Web" study, which states that third-party data collectors have rapidly increased their activity in the last year. People are willingly listing their private information on social media sites, where it's viewable for their friends and family, but companies are taking unlicensed liberties with that information, breaching individuals' right to confidentiality.

Third-party data collection is a growing problem for consumers, whether they're aware of it or not. Here are three points to keep in mind about this worrisome trend.

Social media is part of the problem, but not all of it
Krux's data showed that data collection via social media sites has grown 30 percent since 2012, but it's still only one slice of the pie. Only 20 percent of all third-party data collection comes via sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The rest came from sharing widgets, ad networks and other websites. Consumers can take one small step toward keeping their information secure by making their social media pages private, but it's important to note that further precautions should be taken.

E-commerce is at risk
The data also reflected a troubling new problem - those who spend their money on e-commerce sites may want to think twice, as 60 percent of commerce sites and 54 percent of marketing sites "experience a high proportion" of data collection that's beyond their control. Furthermore, nearly 80 percent of this collection is stemming from the companies themselves, their technologies or their partners, meaning retail sites are not doing enough to keep their own customers secure.

This problem isn't going away
It's clear at this point that the data collection problem isn't going away soon. In fact, it's increased sharply in recent years - from 168 companies collecting information in 2011 to 300 in 2012 to 328 in 2013. According to Marketing Daily, Krux co-founder and CEO Tom Chavez says there are still many unknown agents lurking amid all the data out there.

"Though the increase of third-party data collection has moderated due to better data governance by website operators, there's still a great deal of unknown and unwanted data harvesting happening out there," Chavez said.

Data quality is an laudable goal in today's business world, but gathering that data honestly and ethically is important as well.