Transparency key to Europe’s big data opportunity

Europe has an opportunity to lead big data analysis, says Richard Benjamins, group director of business intelligence big data at Telefonica

There is a huge opportunity for Europe to take the lead in big data analysis, says Richard Benjamins, group director business intelligence big data, Telefonica.

“But complete transparency is the only way to make using customer data sustainable,” he told the Trust in the digital world conference in Madrid.

Transparency is the key to unlocking that opportunity, he said, because that is the only way for businesses to ensure customers are happy with the way their data is collected and used.

However, in Benjamins’ view, this remains a challenge – as no company has yet achieved the necessary level of transparency.

“It is vital for companies to engage with their customers and take them on the journey towards transparency that enables using their data for mutual benefit,” he said.

This is the way forward, said Benjamins, rather than simply trying to work out what can be done with customers’ data without breaking the law.

“The challenge is finding a way of reaching the same level of trust with customers that exists between doctors and patients,” he said.

Benjamins believes this level of trust is necessary to extend to all members of society the confidence of young people in using online services and their comfort with getting something in return for their data.

“At present, most people who use online services are not aware their data is being collected or how their data is being used – but that is not sustainable,” he said.

Regulators, especially in Europe, are increasingly looking at what companies are doing with customers’ data and, in some cases, fining them for contravening privacy laws.

However, he said there are a lot of opportunities for companies in analysing this data if they can find the right balance between making customers aware and exploiting their data.

“People are generally happy to share their information if they know that it is being collected and how it is being used to improve their lives,” said Benjamins.

For example, he said by analysing the mobile phone call and text data of people in a city hit by an earthquake, authorities can quickly identify the worst affected areas.

“The areas where there is most activity are likely to be the worst affected, and this can help authorities decide which areas probably need the most help,” said Benjamins.

“The data is a by-product of mobile communication, but by analysing that data it can tell an interesting and useful story.”

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