We need to empower consumers through the Internet of Things to create “a sustainable data ecosystem that is centered on the individual.” That was the message from Carolyn Nguyen, director of Microsoft’s Technology Policy Group, who spoke at a Federal Trade Commission workshop about the Internet of Things in Washington, DC on November 19.Internet of Things - Microsoft marketing research study - example slide 1

Traditional consumer control mechanisms such as notice and consent are losing their meaning and usefulness under an onslaught of “ubiquitous sensors.” These sensors are sharing data about individuals, but it is primarily collected and generated passively, everywhere from their own home to the sidewalk on Main Street. Nguyen said that this flow of data has the potential to create new benefits, but lax regulation can clearly harm the individual, and we are nearing “a crisis of trust in data use.”

Nguyen’s team conducted qualitative marketing research studies on how individuals define “context” in data collection. In the first study, across eight countries, her team identified seven key variables that impact user sensitivities to data collection and use. The objective variables were: the type of data; who is accessing it; which device is being used; how the data is collected; and how the data is being used. The subjective variables were: what gives users confidence in service providers; and what is the user getting out of it.

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For example, the research looked at scenarios when an individual walks into a new coffee shop for the first time. The store is collecting their current location data, passively, from the individual’s mobile phone in order to make an automatic decision for them and provide no obvious benefit to the individual. Respondents tended to oppose data collection in this context. However, Nguyen’s research found that the acceptability rate increased for respondents in Western countries as the purpose of the data collection was switched to “personalize my choices.” Then, when the researchers changed it from an unknown new store to a known and trusted store, the acceptability rates skyrocketed. Interestingly, demonstrating the importance of culture in the context of data collection, the researchers discovered that when the value exchange was changed to “community benefit,” it drove up acceptability rates in China.Internet of Things - Microsoft marketing research study - example slide 3

Nguyen said her research highlights the importance of developing a context-aware system for the Internet of Things, since culture, perceptions, demographics and situational context all impact the acceptability of data collection and use.

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The considerations for policymakers Nguyen offered included “the need for new, use-based approaches to data governance” and to “develop an evidence base for informed policy-making” since we still understand so little about “what drives user context and how to create trust.


For the whole MRA series about the workshop on the Internet of Things, see part 1, “The Internet of Things: Connected devices are changing the world for consumers and data users” part 2, “Trust and context in a connected world: what can marketing research tell us?”, part 3, “Vint Cerf and the Internet of Things: "Privacy may be an anomaly", part 4, “Smart Home, Smart Health, Smart Cars: What will inter-connected devices mean for users and data users?” and part 5, "Ubiquitous Data: Privacy and Security in a Connected World."