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    Linda Nguyen

    Who do you trust with your money? Your information? The details of your life? These are all questions that you answer every day without realizing it. When you make a bank deposit, sign up for a rewards card or post on social media, you are letting the businesses behind those doors access into your life. They are collecting data on you and are watching your every move—all with the hopes of influencing your decision-making.

    So where exactly is the line between innocent persuasion and strategic brainwashing? Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, just underwent a Senate hearing where he had to answer to probing questions about data privacy and security. Allegedly, Facebook user information was culled by third parties and utilized to sway public opinion during elections (amongst other things). Not only is this is a huge breach of trust for consumers everywhere, but it is part of an alarming trend that institutions need to be held accountable for.

    Despite knowing the disturbing reality of how our information is collected and used, data amassed by these institutions keeps growing. From school history to relationship statuses and location tracking, all of these data points are being monitored and utilized for marketing and advertising. As a business, it’s true that better analysis of data leads to more relevant targeted marketing and therefore better experiences for consumers. But as Uncle Ben from Spider-Man has said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Without proper consent, regulations and protection from abuse, consumers are left vulnerable to being taken advantage of.

    In the world that we live in, information is currency. From Target and Equifax to Underarmour and Facebook, information leaks from businesses have happened all too frequently. People’s information is falling into the wrong hands, being used too liberally, and the resulting consequence is a sad loss of faith from consumers.

    At the forefront of every heated dinner conversation should be the fact that people’s trust in business, media and other institutions has been declining notably. In a survey from Edelman, the average level of trust in business, media, government, and NGOs combined was below 50%. From privacy invasions and disingenuous messages to massive, law-breaking scandals; the general public no longer feels safe. Their right to privacy, including their own name, address and opinions on brands and public figures, have all been encroached upon. The leadership they look to for decisions regarding their best interests have failed them.

    Distrust across industries, leadership and overall society is an issue that will have irreparable consequences. Even the credibility of CEOs has decreased to a mere 37% globally, according to the Edelman’s Trust Barometer. If the chief executive of a brand cannot be trusted, how can the brand itself be trusted? There is a lack of honesty and integrity that is rampant in businesses. As our team at Mellonaid has written in the past, consumers are demanding authenticity more than ever.

    Trust is one of the few things in life that cannot be bought. As marketers and business people, we must take care in how we operate. It is no secret that advertising generates revenue. But revenue depends on consumers. And if consumers pull their support from your brand because of lack of trust, what are you left with?

    A reform for data collection and advertisements is crucial in gaining back consumer trust. 77% of Americans believe platforms need to vet the ads they let on their network, according to a 2017 survey from HubSpot. Data privacy and security should be responsive towards consumer needs and desires, and institutions should be expected to uphold transparency.

    We are moving towards an age of recognition. We must understand the susceptibility of the technology that helps us, connects us with each other and which drives the society that we live in. There is a fear amongst consumers that we are losing control over our own private information. Somewhere along the way, with the advent of technology, our rights to privacy and security diminished. To build trust back, there must be clear, decisive rules set forth for institutions to guard the data that they are allowed to collect.