Drawing the Line: Customers as a Data Source

Today’s New York Post reports that Bloomberg was confronted by Goldman Sachs for allegedly allowing its journalists to tap into subscriber usage data. It is early into this event, and still unclear what the ultimate impact  on Bloomberg might be, but regardless of outcome, this remains an area of  acute importance to all data publishers. That’s because data publishers  often have access to potentially confidential and valuable information,  and the slightest misstep could put your whole business at risk by  destroying customer trust.133477-bloomberg-terminal-12885

The Bloomberg case was actually pretty tame in many respects: a Bloomberg reporter called Goldman Sachs to inquire if a partner was still working there because he hadn’t logged into his Bloomberg terminal for a long period of time.

Login data provides one level of insight into the activity (or non-activity) of your subscribers, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you know what job function a particular subscriber performs, and also what that subscriber is searching on, you could potentially get insights into new product development activity, sales strategy or even potential acquisition targets. You see where I am going, and hopefully you also see why you should never go there. Your subscribers, often unknowingly, are trusting you with a lot of potentially sensitive and valuable information. It’s your duty to guard it carefully.

I’m not suggesting that there is any issue with aggregate analysis of activity against your database to better understand what your subscriber base as a whole is interested in so that you might improve your product. But whenever you start associating specific search and view activity with specific subscribers, you need to be very careful.

Depending on the markets and the job functions you serve, you may even want to re-think if, say, your customer service people should be able to view a specific subscriber’s saved searches. And even something as innocuous as putting up a list of “most viewed companies this week” could inadvertently reveal too much if you operate in a tight vertical.

Too often these days, I am seeing people do things because they can, not because they should. Technology is often addictive in this way. But I urge you to look before you leap. Trust is easy to lose, hard to regain and essential to your success.