Close this search box.

GUEST COMMENT The Surveillance Economy Vs The Trust Economy

Image: Fotolia

One of the cornerstones of developing a consistent and sustainable brand is trust. In a world where personal data is being obtained at an alarming rate and consumers’ patience wearing thin, digital footprints and data privacy is now something all retailers must engage with.

According to a report published by The Chartered Institute of Marketing, 57% of consumers don’t trust brands to use their data responsibly. Retailers have been reliant on the “surveillance economy” and this has resulted in this concerning level of mistrust as customers believe brands aren’t doing enough, if anything at all, to protect their privacy.

To reverse this worrying trend, brands need to leave surveillance behind and start living in the “Trust Economy”.

The Surveillance Economy

Customer’s data has been viewed as a commodity available for sale with its collection dependent on mass surveillance. This transactional relationship has characterised consumer and brands interactions for the past decade with search engines like Google and social platforms like Facebook leading the way and retailers following suit.

For too long, brands and retailers relied on a tacit acceptance and to a certain degree of ignorance of their practice from consumers. However, both consumer attitudes and government regulation have shifted. The introduction of GDPR as well as notable cases of data misuse from big tech has drastically changed the landscape within which retailers operate. Now customers are not only far more aware and conscious of their data but are actively changing the purchasing behaviour dependent on brands data policy.

Brands have generally been slow to react, resulting in a growing crisis of consumer trust, However more recently corporations like Apple have changed their approach to privacy and businesses are preparing themselves for a ‘Cookieless World’ as Google looks to remove third-party tracking from its browser Chrome, signalling the long overdue move away from the Surveillance Economy,

Privacy is a Benefit, Not a Burden

Far too many retailers saw the introduction of GDPR as an unwanted chore. Whilst some may be confused by GDPR’s intimidating features, embracing the policy’s multifaceted requirements should have been seen as an important first step in regaining consumer trust.

The fact that websites continue to distort consent user interfaces, to lead consumers making specific selections regarding their data, is exacerbating the issue of consumer trust. Rather than continue to rely on third-party cookies and make piecemeal changes due to GDPR, retailers should look to make concerted progress in rebuilding trust.

As users are worried about the privacy of their personal data, businesses need to have a robust policy to tackle this issue. Adhering to data protection guidelines is a start, but retailers must go further.

The current industry standard lacks the transparency required and will ultimately see consumers move away and their data with it. However, an ethical approach to consumer data shouldn’t solely be seen as a measure to prevent the loss of customers and their data, but to build and strengthen their relationship for the future.

Consumers are now far more engaged with and conscious of business ethics, and want to spend their cash with businesses that align with their own world view and morals. We’ve seen this shift in consumer behaviour in the retail space with customer views on sustainability and the backlash against fast fashion as one prime example but data privacy is equally pertinent, Retailers that take a stand and implement a transparent and ethical practice when it comes to their customers data will grab the opportunity to forge more meaningful and long lasting relationships with their consumer.

There isn’t a digital future without trust.

The transition from the Surveillance to The Trust Economy will present challenges for retailers. However, the principles of retail won’t change and there are still ways that retailers can connect with and understand their consumers. But only through transparency can they truly develop trustworthy relationships.

Now more than ever, retailers need to be aware that this transition is a chance to rebuild the modern customer-brand connection – a chance for change. The reliance on third-party cookies was not only an issue of ethics but also highlighted a lack of ambition from retailers and brands to forge meaningful connections with their customers. They were never perfect. their precision was greatly exaggerated and they had reached the point of diminishing returns.

As we transition toward a cookie-free future, it’s vital we see a genuine attitude shift within the retail sector. One in which there is no room for violating consumer privacy. Instead, businesses and consumers will finally be part of a two-way relationship built on transparency, trust and value.

Establishing clear communication with the consumer about their data is a vital first step. However, all retailers need to evaluate every way in which they use customer data and see whether it can be anonymised and used in a way that doesn’t impinge on privacy. AI systems are now available that can provide actionable insights for retailers to improve the customer experience without jeopardising consumers data. Focusing on consumer behaviour rather than demographic information or user id and location data, gives retailers the ability to meet and understand consumers needs and wants in an ethical manner.

These changes may appear to be technical tinkering, but will have significant impact on how retailers and brands use customer data and make significant strides in restoring consumer trust. The industry is currently gambling with that trust as they continue to treat data privacy as a chore and afterthought. It’s vital that the sector embrace an ethical approach to customer data and the trust economy and take this chance to tip the scales back in the favour of consumers and rewrite the customer experience for the better.


Angel Maldonado, chief executive officer, and co-founder ofEmpathy

Read More

Register for Newsletter

Group 4 Copy 3Created with Sketch.

Receive 3 newsletters per week

Group 3Created with Sketch.

Gain access to all Top500 research

Group 4Created with Sketch.

Personalise your experience on