Has the Cambridge Analytica scandal killed freemium and digital trust?

Image credit: Lane V. Erickson / Shutterstock.com

Let’s be honest, it is actually quite satisfying to say “I told you so.” We recently decided that the Cambridge Analytica data scandal had ruined the party for digital companies, but opened a door for telcos – based on trust. Now, a broad, global, balanced survey from Openet (conducted by Sapio Research) backs that opinion up – hugely.

In fact, it seems, we were not worried enough about DataGate fallout.

According to the survey of 1,500 plus consumers (carried out across the UK, North America, Brazil and the Philippines):

  • Since the scandals, 53% of consumers are less likely to share personal data
  • 76% of consumers will increase privacy settings
  • 87% do not think selling data is acceptable.

And, importantly:

  • 56% believe their mobile operator is more trustworthy than digital companies
  • 92% would consider a mobile operator’s digital services

The conundrum (or is it a dichotomy?) is that Facebook and Skype (and, surprisingly, Netflix and Spotify) have created a backlash that has potentially ruined the party for OTT digital players.

We know that the ability to use consumers’ data allows us to offer them better, more personalized services. By abusing it, the digital players have created an atmosphere of mistrust and now face a clampdown.

Whilst the scandal – and the backlash – does not necessarily ruin the entire internet model, it does cast a long shadow over the ‘freemium’ model. Niall Norton, CEO of Openet, seems a little sad about the poster children of the digital age – Netflix and Uber – getting it so wrong. In fact, according to Norton, “Many have expressed an interest in paying for services if it means that their data won’t be abused, signifying an end to the ‘freemium’ era. Consumers are clearly screaming out for something different, something trustworthy.”

As with many scandals, many will shout “shame” and overreact. But shame it is. Just at the moment when consumers were beginning to understand the value and benefit of their data (to themselves via the services they use), this series of events has pushed them to want to protect it – ironically, to their own detriment.

Even after the scandal, to use Facebook and the like you have to allow access to your data. The BBC recently worked out that you need a university degree to begin to understand the terms and conditions of most digital players. And it takes 40 minutes to read through them.

We have also been saying for a while that trust is an asset, and mobile operators (while being perceived as dull) do have the trust of their customers. There is a window, identified in the Openet research, for mobile operators to leverage that trust.

At the moment when old-fashioned voice seems genuinely to be on its death bed, it could be that a miracle just happened. Now that RCS is finally properly here, and now that operators are actually implementing platforms as well as networks, they could seize the moment. The question is: will they?

Time – and not very much of it – will tell, we trust.

The survey is worth the read – it is also free and available here.

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