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May 16, 2018
The Data Stockholm Syndrome
 
The Facebook data scandal raises serious questions about the uses and the vulnerability of consolidated robust profiles of individual customers and prospects.  Collecting vast amounts of data about individuals and then using it to persuade them creates a virtual Stockholm Syndrome, where consumers’ kidnapped data is used to create feelings of trust and affection which may or may not be genuine or desired.
 
Marketers aim to micro-target potential customers by using their own words and actions to manipulate them. This is made possible by compiling prescriptive and predictive data from multiple channels and sources to create robust individual profiles. When massive data sets are processed and parsed using machine learning, individual messages and cadences can be created aimed at motivating or influencing like-minded segments or individuals one by one.
 
This was the goal at Cambridge Analytica. And this is the goal of marketers and brands plowing serious time, money and energy into big data, AI and machine learning.
 
On one hand, mining and refining data for individual marketing could be the height of customer service. By utilizing multichannel data about what any individual likes, needs and wants, brands could filter messages sent to her, which, when done correctly, will be perceived as personal, useful, relevant and easy to use – the ideal way to communicate with customers or prospects.
 
On the other hand, mining a person’s social, digital, email or search media could enable an insidious party to create persuasive but fake content or selectively edit news and information in ways that play to built-in assumptions or biases.  Leveraging attitudes and language as well as references to friends, sites visited or actions taken, a malevolent party could present stories or offers that appear to be equally as personal, useful, relevant and easy to accept. This is what the Russians were doing on Facebook in 2016.
 
Tristan Harris, an ex-Googler, sounded the alarm in a 2017 TED talk and Atlantic article by arguing that leading web and social properties use design and data to addict us to our devices and manipulate what we see, hear and believe. He believes that the use of sophisticated and nuanced design techniques combined with personal information hijack our emotions and instincts thus robbing us of our ability to control our time and attention. By studying and tracking us, the big tech firms get us to do what they want us to do – watch, click, share and comment early, often and over longer time periods so they can pimp us out to advertisers.
 
Datamining is a double-edged sword. It can super serve customers or create a Stockholm Syndrome. Other than what the Mueller probe has turned up, there’s no consensus on how to spot or prevent unfair manipulation and broad consensus against government regulation.  I’m not sure we should let the market sort this one out. 
 

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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