The Risk of Emphasizing Data Quantity Over Quality

The privacy movement heralded by January’s implementation of the California Consumer Privacy Act has shone a spotlight on the ethical issues surrounding data collection. But digital marketing insiders know that ethics is not the only issue plaguing data-driven business.

Ensuring the quality and accuracy of data is a major challenge for marketers, data brokers, and consumers. Drew Kutcharian, CTO and co-founder of audience platform DISQO, checked in with Street Fight to provide his vision of the data quality-quantity balance and how privacy legislation will affect it going forward.

How have data-driven marketers prioritized quantity of data over quality? What are the ethical and strategic repercussions of doing so?

All too often, marketers purchase data without a clear understanding of its source or how it was acquired, which can lead to significant ethical and strategic repercussions.

Without transparency into the data collection process, marketers have no means of knowing whether the people who shared their data are aware of or comfortable with how it is being used. If the data provider is not being transparent with the data user, it’s very likely that they are also not being transparent with the data source: the people sharing their information. Without transparency on all sides, it’s simply not ethical.

Strategically, lack of clarity can lead to ill-informed decisions. Every day, marketers make key decisions based on the data available to them and an assumption of that data’s quality—regardless of their ability to verify that data.

What are the most common inaccuracies in customer/audience data sets?

Data is often not representative of reality either because it is outdated or because it is rife with bot-generated data. Marketers must ensure that their data is relevant, fresh, and representative of real behaviors of real people.

If prioritizing quality were easy and cheap, everyone would do it. Why is it challenging to rely only on quality data?

Collecting quality data requires creating a real, sustainable sharing economy. Companies must actually engage with real people in an open and transparent way, and those people need some sort of real incentive to share their data.

CCPA, GDPR, and future legislation are forcing marketers to seek user permission for data collection. Will these regulations spark significant enough change that consumers will actually notice a difference in how companies treat their information? Will laws like CCPA that require consumers to opt out of data collection, selling, and sharing have a limited impact because most consumers won’t take advantage of them?

History will tell how effective consumer privacy regulations will be. Regardless, giving people agency over their own data is a step in the right direction. It is far better to have the ability to opt out of data collection and not exercise it than to not have the option at all. After all, quality data is predicated on a sustainable sharing economy, which itself requires that people have both choice and trust in the process.

What do you make of claims that data privacy legislation will harm smaller players and not affect giants like Google and Facebook because Big Tech firms have the resources to make sense of the legislation and even skirt it while mid-size firms lack the funding and expertise to navigate regulations?

Conforming to CCPA and GDPR requires a considerable amount of investment in human processes and technology, which smaller, struggling firms might not have. That said, putting consumer choice and privacy first is beneficial in the long run, both in strengthening the relationships companies have with their audiences and in improving the quality of the data they use to make strategic decisions.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He joined Street Fight as a contributing writer in 2015, has compiled the daily newsletter since 2016, and has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Shoot him an email at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.