Oracle OpenWorld 2014: Privacy fears change from country to country

Retailers need to translate consumer privacy fears at a local level, says Dunnhumby CIO Yale Cosset

Retailers need to understand consumer privacy fears at a local level, according to Dunnhumby's CIO.

Yale Cosset, CIO of data science company Dunnhumby, has warned retailers to be transparent when gathering customer data because of differing legislation around the world.

Fears around privacy and what is or isn't acceptable when it comes to gathering consumer data differs from country to country. This could be a minefield for retailers who want to gather data and insight on their customers.

Cosset said while there are going to be a lot of legislative changes in Europe, the US and Asia, as long as retailers are absolutely transparent with the capturing of consumer data they can’t do wrong.

But he said retailers need to articulate “more than once in very large capital letters, as opposed to at the bottom of a 150-page document” to be transparent with consumers.

Customers also need to understand the value exchange and the relationship they’re entering into with a retailer, Cosset warned. 

“We refer to consumers as snowflakes – it's very easy to see this big plain of white snow on the ground, but in reality every single element of that layer is different. Engaging each consumer differently is critical,” he said.

Legislation aside, Cosset also warned what may be acceptable and non-intrusive ways to gather consumer data in one culture, may be unacceptable in another.

“What may be considered valuable in the US, may not be valuable in Italy or Brazil,” he said. “In the same way as what may be considered extremely sensitive in different countries.”

Speaking at a roundtable press event at Oracle’s user conference in San Francisco, Cosset said he had been talking to a group of French executives who had raised the issue of privacy. 

Cosset – who is French himself – said he tried to calm their fears by using non-intrusive examples and soon realised he had been out of France for too long, because they didn’t agree with his judgement about what was and wasn’t intrusive.

While Dunnhumby works with 400 of the largest retailers and brands across different markets, Cosset pointed out these companies will face different legislations and cultures, and will have to respect those nuances around the world.

Care.data privacy concerns

The founder of Dunnhumby Clive Humby has in the past raised his concerns over privacy, especially concerning NHS England’s use of data and its Care.data programme.

Humby, now chief data scientist at Starcount, said in June the Care.data roll-out worries him and, while he admitted a national system has the power to do a huge amount of good, the NHS is risking it all because it has been so badly managed.

“Just because we can do things, it doesn’t mean we should,” he said.

This echoed the controversies surrounding the Care.data programme and its plans to expand the collection of patient care data from hospitals to include general practices.

Working with Oracle Fusion cloud services

Dunnhumby has recently launched a project with Oracle to globalise its back-office business processes using Fusion cloud. Rather than depend on managing multiple cloud providers, Cosset said Dunnhumby will have one database system and one software partner.

During the roundtable, Cosset couldn’t comment much on the implementation because the project was still in its early days, but he said every time the company challenged Oracle with new tasks, the supplier had stepped up and delivered.

Cosset also said he would not be commited to being a single-supplier organisation. “We’re not married, but have a strong and successful partnership,” he said.

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