New paper: The Pandemic-Induced Personal Data Explosion

Back in June 2020, I came across a special collection of papers about COVID-19, in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. Within that collection, the paper “Consumer Privacy During (and After) the COVID-19 Pandemic”, by Aaron R. Brough and Kelly D. Martin caught my attention. That paper reflected on the implications of the increased collection and publication of personal data that we saw in the early days of the pandemic on consumer privacy.

I played around with some ideas about the data explosion described in the Brough and Martin paper, and their broader implications for consumers and for marketing, and even wrote a blog post about it: “Impact of COVID-19 on the generation and disclosure of personal data”. Later, I sent an e-mail to the first author (Aaron R. Brough) with my thoughts on his paper, and a link to my blog post. He replied with some thoughts. Then, I replied. And, eventually, we felt that we had the kernel of an idea for a short paper.

That paper has now been published! It is entitled “The Pandemic-Induced Personal Data Explosion”, and it was published in the journal Social Marketing Quarterly. It is available in open access. 

In that short paper, we note how the pandemic has resulted in significant changes in the behaviour of government and citizens alike; and how these changes, in turn, have spurred the generation and dissemination of personal data:

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We then reflect on the implication of these trends for the social marketing community. [To be clear, “social marketing” is NOT the same as “social media marketing”. Social marketing refers to the use of marketing concepts to achieve social goals, such as encouraging healthy or recycling behaviours].

We propose the following effects:

Aspect of SMImpact
Social Marketing GoalsCreation of conflicting social marketing goals – e.g., conflict between protecting public health and individual privacy.
Citizen FocusInequalities in access to digital technology are increasingly impacting what voices are heard and which concerns are prioritized – e.g., while some segments of the population that are traditionally difficult to reach via digital means have embraced digital technology and are therefore being heard, others have been left behind.
Value PropositionNew innovations may be enabled or needed, leading to the improvement of firms’ ability to create value for individual citizens – e.g., the availability of new data has supported the development of new value propositions for certain existing products, such as Zoom.
SegmentationThe creation of new datasets—particularly among demographics that previously had a limited digital footprint—enhances the ability to segment markets and target social marketing activities – e.g., the availability of new data that was previously available only in offline channels (e.g., alcoholics anonymous meetings) may provide novel segmentation bases.
BarriersThe identification of additional barriers to positive social behaviour that have emerged, diminished, or even disappeared during the pandemic – e.g., factors such as feelings of isolation, caring responsibilities, type of job, group membership, and scepticism toward official messaging have all been shown to impact the adoption of desired public health behaviours
CriticalityExamine the consequences of the government and private behaviours at the macro, meso, and micro levels – e.g., new partnerships between governments and the private sector were formed to control the COVID-19 pandemic that have the potential to impact competition and innovation in the marketplace.

Finally, we propose a research agenda for the social marketing community, consisting of 21 research questions:

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I hope you enjoy this paper… as well as its origin story.

2 thoughts on “New paper: The Pandemic-Induced Personal Data Explosion

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