Can brands build trust in the information age?

By Simon Moss, Associate Director & Head of Business Development

This week has seen another arrest in the alarming TalkTalk hacking scandal.

While the media furore over that particular incident is starting to abate, it has got me thinking about the issue of brand reputation in the information age. Specifically, how easily it can be won and lost.

While tactics employed by this particular group of hackers is of interest to us techies here at Whiteoaks, there is a far larger sociological trend to consider.

So much of what we do today is collated and quantified, with a data trail that can be utilised for good or for bad. This mountain of data we create actually empowers us as consumers, but also leaves us vulnerable in ways we have not faced before.

A Panorama programme following the TalkTalk hack spoke to victims of cyber crime, who felt they had been “violated” through their digital records. It is powerful stuff on a human level.

Conversely, a personalised offer sent straight to my smartphone based on analysis of my browsing habits and interests, can only aid me as a consumer.

This makes me wonder, do brands have to work harder to earn our trust now? With so much choice (price comparison sites simply didn’t exist a decade or so ago) are we, the Great British public, the ones in control? The aforementioned TalkTalk customers did not feel an overwhelming sense of control, that’s for sure.

The trouble is, innovation (be it hackers coming up with new ways to steal your data, or those coming up with the latest bit of wearable technology to gather it) is massively outpacing the ability of legislators to keep it in check.

That’s just the world we live in, and it isn’t going to change any time soon.

So can brands really do anything to convince consumers that they will be ethical with their use of data?

Take the banking sector, for example. The financial crisis of 2008 needed a robust response and the upcoming Basel Committee regulations set for January are a major step to curbing any similar frivolity in the industry. As of January, the world’s leading banks must demonstrate the ability to identify and manage bank-wide risks. Make no mistake about it, this will be a pain to implement – but it is designed to show compliance.

Will it take a similar level of oversight to ensure that data is used ethically? It seems that legislation is the only true way to guarantee any kind of proper control over data usage – and thus create trust.