Big Tech collects personal data and uses it to turn a profit. Knowing how and why your data is collected is the first step to data empowerment. The only one who should be in control of your data is you.
While companies have relied on various personal data collection methods for decades, social media and smart devices have amplified those resources.
Personal data collection is hardly a new concept. The more advertisers can understand their audience, the more they can refine their messaging into an optimized package. Personal data collection is a great way to ensure that a brand like Pampers or Jack in the Box can reach the right audience with the right message at the right time. While companies have relied on various personal data collection methods for decades, the advent of social media and smart devices amplified those resources beyond even Don Draper’s wildest imagination.
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Companies collect your personal data for a myriad of reasons. However, the most common reason for gathering information is to turn a profit. Large corporations put your personal data to work to sell information to advertisers. They are passing your data along so that advertisers can reach their target audience. Big Tech allows ad companies to pay to host their advertisements on sites where they feel their target audience spends the most time. Big Tech gets paid for the ad real estate and the advertisers are able to sell more. Amazon is a huge proponent of data collection.
In 2021, they were able to make $837,330.25 in revenue in the first quarter alone. This was made possible by collecting and using customer information. Your personal data provides a robust profile on your digital habits, likes, dislikes, and browsing history. When Big Tech harnesses your digital footprint, they can serve you personalized ads and product feeds to grab your attention and keep you scrolling. The longer you stay online, the more ads you see, which turns into money for Big Tech.
Our personal data isn’t just middle names and home addresses—it’s the entire collection of our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and habits combined to create a snapshot into our psyche. Every click and keystroke generates new insight into the wants and needs of a specific audience. Companies and analysts traditionally divide that information into two data camps: qualitative and quantitative data.
Quantitative data is the data we generally think of—numbers, metrics, values—objective figures that measure “what” or “how many.” How many purchases did our audience make this week? How much time did they spend on Instagram? If the method generates a fact, then it’s most likely quantitative.
Quantitative data is the backbone of statistics, making it the perfect data set for anticipating trends, optimizing ad sets, and measuring performance. Quantitative data collection methods break down things like buying habits and market awareness into a numeric value and is ideal for making informed predictions.
By contrast, qualitative data collection methods take a more subjective approach to understanding an audience. Rather than focusing on numbers, qualitative research shifts its attention to people and understanding the “why” behind their decisions. Why did this product stand out? What didn’t they like about this packaging? Qualitative data is built from opinions and insights and is used to better understand someone’s values or beliefs, making it the perfect dataset for tasks like product development and message testing.
Both quantitative or qualitative data can help companies create data profiles that help a company make a profit. They’re going to make a profit by either utilizing your data to make their product better or by simply selling it to other companies.
These types of data collection methods help companies worldwide better understand the wants, needs, and beliefs of their customers. These are the collection methods companies use to refine their strategies, products, and messages for maximum impact.
Perhaps an advertiser’s most reliable method for collecting personal data, surveys. When a company conducts surveys they ask a series of questions and collect answers from a wide variety of people to create a more inclusive final data set. Surveys thrive when describing the attitudes and opinions of large groups of people. By expanding the respondents across social groups, companies can paint a generalized picture of how that population may respond. Whether they are served as an online survey as an ad before your next YouTube video, an unexpected phone call, or a written submission, surveys are familiar, relatively objective, and easy for companies to execute at scale.
Similar to a questionnaire, interviews focus on generating qualitative data about a specific audience through a conversation. While face to face interviews can undoubtedly take a more structured approach, the strength of this method is its ability to adapt and generate deeper context as needed. Through the interview process, companies can better understand the subject’s opinions, experiences, and ideals by compiling research questions and executing a structured data collection process.
Much like an interview, focus groups ask a series of open-ended questions designed to shape how the company comprehends an audience—only this time, that audience is a diverse group of people rather than an individual. By generating a range of responses, companies can gather opinions more efficiently and effectively. A successful focus group relies on a talented moderator that can direct the conversation. While interviews often tell a consistent story from question to question, it is reasonable to expect participants’ opinions to change and evolve as they interact with the other group members. One of the downsides of focus groups is that oftentimes they can be time consuming and expensive. Therefore, many companies opt for passive data collection methods.
This is where we bring our data collection methods into the 21st Century. Online tracking gathers data like IP addresses, cookies, browser fingerprinting, and more in real time to create a more complete view of someone’s digital habits and preferences. The digital counterpart to observational data, online tracking helps companies optimize their sites and services to provide a more personalized user experience.
Whether it’s for taxes or trends, most companies keep a deep database of transactional data including sales orders, invoices, shipping documents, credit card payments, and insurance claims. In recent years, organizations have begun to realize the treasure trove sitting in those servers. Now, savvy companies leverage their own transactional data to identify new trends and help them understand when to engage with their audience.
When assessing primary data collection methods for your own companies or the companies you engage with, we urge you to consider how those practices generate consent.
Today’s personal data collection methods are at a unique crossroads. While traditional tactics like surveys and interviews certainly play a critical role in any company’s data strategy, more and more strategies actively ignore the consent of their audiences. Terms of Service take hours to read, cookies are ambiguous, and conditions are rarely easy to understand. By contrast, active data consent is an ongoing relationship with informed, conscious, and intentional agreement, not coerced acceptance.
At Invisibly, we believe data policies should be accessible for all literacy levels and respect the time and attention of their audience (and it doesn’t end there). To learn more about our beliefs on data, ownership, and responsibility, read The Invisibly Bill of Rights.
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