Why You Shouldn't Be Freaked Out By What Marketers Know About You
Have you ever called customer service and the person on the other end knew who you were before you even said hello? More and more often, companies are taking advantage of real-time demographic data to improve their interactions with existing and potential customers.
Sure, this is great news for marketers. But consumers may be understandably freaked out that someone is collecting information on them and using it without their knowledge.
Contrary to what you might think, though, most companies aren't the NSA. They have little interest in finding out the personal details of your life, let alone sharing them with anyone - and, in fact, they go to great lengths to make sure that this data is kept private and secure.
Intrigued about the process, we asked Neustar's chief privacy officer, Becky Burr, about the company's approach to security and privacy. She discussed Neustar's privacy-by-design policy, the biggest misconceptions about data collection, and what she does to safeguard her information.
Interview conducted by Business Insider Studios and edited for clarity and length.
BI Studios: Can you tell me about your experience before Neustar?
Becky Burr: Between 2000 and 2012 I was a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering and then WilmerHale, a Washington, D.C., law firm where I focused on internet and information law, regulatory issues, and specifically data privacy and security and consumer protection. Before that, I ran the international office of the National Telecommunication and Information Administration and worked at the Federal Trade Commission.
Tell me a bit about when you came to Neustar.
BB: I started at Neustar in June 2012 as Neustar's first chief privacy officer. As the company was transitioning from a telecom infrastructure to an information services and analytics company, the board and the leadership realized that it was important to focus on information privacy and security. My job was to essentially develop and maintain the privacy- and security-by-design program here. We want to be proactive and creative, as opposed to developing a product and sort of tacking on the privacy aspects after the product or service is complete.
What does consumer data collection consist of at Neustar?
BB: Neustar isn't engaged in behavioral profiling or creating profiles about where people go or what they do on the internet. What we do is help marketers understand consumers better. They may already know who their customers are, but we help them better understand how to communicate with them based on large samplings. We try to use smart, predictive algorithms to find ways for them to communicate better.
What's the biggest misconception people have about companies like Neustar or marketers who aggregate consumer data?
BB: There's this concern about "Am I being followed?" "Am I being profiled?" I think part of the problem is that we don't always do a great job of explaining precisely what we're doing or how we're ensuring that privacy. We need to convey to consumers that privacy is being safeguarded and used only in appropriate ways, and to ensure that consumers understand what we're doing. To the extent that, it's predictive as opposed to being a big profile. We also have some work to do in making sure consumers understand what values they're getting from data analytics and what the benefits are.
What do you think is the biggest threat to data privacy?
BB: There are people out there trying very hard to get at sensitive consumer data - whether it's exploiting security weaknesses or privacy practices that are not as strong as they should be - and using that information to commit identity theft and other crimes to make money. That's probably the No. 1 threat.
How does your job as chief privacy officer spill into your personal life?
BB: I love the power of careful and respectful information, but that does not make me a privacy fundamentalist on any level. I do try to have strong passwords, and I try not to have the same passwords with all of my accounts. When it comes to identity theft, I try to check my credit report to see if anything funky is going on so I can identify it quickly. I probably do that more than most people do because I understand the real threat that's out there. But I'm not really too worried about the fact that someone at Google may know what I've searched for in my browser.
What tips would you give to someone who's concerned about personal data privacy?
BB: Don't use "password" as a password. It's important that you change your password often and not use the same one for multiple accounts. Don't post things in public forums, such as social media, that you don't want people to see. And lastly, check you credit report regularly.
To learn more about Neustar's consumer data privacy methods, visit its website.
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