Because we enjoy clickbait as much as the next news site, here�s a story on the US Presidential election that brings up a question with which every marketer wrestles today: How much customer data collection is permissible before it crosses the line from clever to creepy? That�s the question some campaign analysts are asking of Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, whose smart phone campaign app collects, and shares, a considerably greater amount of user personal data than the apps of other campaigns. Savvy 21st Century Big Data marketing, or Big-Brotherish spying? You be the judge.
While other campaigns from both parties offer smart phone apps that collect personal information, Cruz�s app goes much farther in both the depth and breadth of the data collected and in its use of implied consent language. According to a report from the Associated Press, some of the data that Cruz�s campaign app, �Cruz�s Crew,� collects about its 61,000 app users includes physical movements tracked via smart phone location data, phone numbers and emails of phone contacts, and Facebook logins that give the campaign access to user profile demographic data, plus �friends� lists.
Other campaign apps might ask permission to collect information with multiple in-app prompts, but Cruz�s campaign goes much farther in its use of the �assumption close� in which the app collects data unless you specifically deny it permission to do so. According to a recent Fox News article, the Cruz's Crew app language states that, by using the app, "You hereby give your express consent to access your contact list."
In addition, the Cruz campaign freely shares the data it collects with outside analytics companies�including a group called Cambridge Analytica that has close ties to the Cruz campaign. An investor in Cambridge named Robert Mercer, a recent Fox News report says, has made large donations to �outside groups supporting Cruz.� Money quote from the Fox News article:
"Analytics gives the campaign a roadmap for everything we do," said Chris Wilson, [Cruz campaign] data and digital director. "[Cruz] has an acute understanding of our work and continually pushes me on it."
Ironically, as the Fox News article points out, Cruz launched his campaign with a promise to keep the country safe from National Security Agency-style spying. "Instead of a government that seizes your emails and your cellphones, imagine a federal government that protected the privacy rights of every American," the campaign announced.
The Bullet Point: Partisan politics aside, marketers would do well to draw lessons from political campaigns as they craft their own data privacy policies. Campaign data collection such as that practiced by the Cruz campaign would be impossible in Europe, where data privacy laws are much stricter. In the US, however, with its more freewheeling consumer privacy regulations, marketers must voluntarily place boundaries on what type, when, and how they collect and act on consumer data. The keys to responsible data collection: be transparent, over-communicate, ask permission, and deliver real value back to your customers.
It�s in the explicit value exchange�I share my data with you and you will reward and recognise me for it�that marketers can stay on the correct side of the cool/creepy divide. Has the Cruz campaign crossed that line? Perhaps�but successful customer-centric marketing requires us to treat customer data as a renewable resource, and not a commodity to be exploited.