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Consumers are losing trust in technology firms – it’s time to win back their trust


Since the news broke in March 2018 that Cambridge Analytica had been improperly harvesting the data of 50 million of Facebook users, the already increasing consumer distrust in technology companies reached fever-pitch.

Social media platforms have handled our online interactions since the mid-noughties, hosting our every photo, message and notorious FarmVille request since then. The enormous digital footprint of each of the 2.27 billion active Facebook users contains details of our weekend plans, relationship status and political stance. As the Cambridge Analytica scandal proved, this data could be used to target fake news, and significantly impact our emotions and actions - a significant issue owing that 52% use Facebook to read, watch or share news (The Verge).

Since Analytica and the fallout of associated scandals, users are increasingly aware of the privacy and security implications of not being in control of their own personal data. While Facebook and Cambridge Analytica may be at the epicentre of the scandal, the shockwaves continue to be felt across the digital industry.

A digital detox isn’t enough

As a result, users are increasingly taking action. What began as luxury detox retreats to remote islands in the Pacific has swiftly became a societal norm. Celebrities and influencers are leading the trend, with the likes of Ed Sheeran and Selena Gomez stepping away from social media. These ‘digital detoxes’ coincide with a rise in users dumping their smartphone in preference for nineties classics such as the Nokia 3310, enabling users to escape the internet, and seek comfort in nostalgia. In-fact, The Independent reported a 5% increase in sales of similar models, against a 2% rise in smartphones in 2017.

Despite these temporary actions, consumers are realising that the technology that they are seeking to escape from is ubiquitous, and underpins the services that they rely on – from their Whole Foods delivery (acquired by Amazon), central heating through Nest (acquired by Google) and Skype conference calls (acquired by Microsoft). Wired (2019) cites computer scientist Mark Weiser in noting that “technology will recede into the background of our lives”. As such, to simply detox is not a viable solution for the future. Instead the onus is on brands to adapt, restoring trust amongst those that they may not have directly harmed.

Restoring consumer trust

The introduction of General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in May 2018 provided a timely launchpad for regaining this trust between consumers and brands. Putting the user back in the driving seat in managing their data built a culture of control that had up-to-then been in the hands of service providers. While many companies feared the litigation and potential fines, those that harnessed the opportunity to be transparent with consumers had the opportunity to build meaningful connections with their customers.

Going beyond the fundamental regulatory requirements of GDPR, such as right to access and to be forgotten, brands (both B2B and B2C) should cease the opportunity to clearly communicate all data held on a given user. Using a well-designed account area, all data held on a user ought to be displayed and the underlying purpose behind holding this data articulated. Erasure requests should be easily facilitated, avoiding lengthy email battle between the consumer and the respective organisation. Brands should also take proactive steps to remove information that is not essential to the core services provided.

Where additional user data is required to deliver a service, progressive profiling should be used to obtain this information. Data should be requested at the point of the service being requested, so as to minimise the risk of overwhelming data-conscious users and putting-off prospects during the onboarding process. Doing so also ensures that the organisation is conscious that they are only collecting data that is absolutely necessary in serving the user.

While consumer data is everywhere, putting the user in control is not enough to win back trust – responsible data collection and handling is required, going above and beyond regulatory requirements.

Author: Mark Boyle, Digital Consultant