The importance of clean, legal data can seem like something of an abstract concept to the average consumer.
Why should any of us care about issues like deduplication and cleansing?
The truth is, data quality can affect all of us. We all have credit reports, social media accounts, email addresses, payroll records and other digital data stored on thousands of servers and in thousands of databases.
The misuse of this data can be devastating.
The Fake Dating Scam
Data quality was thrust into the headlines this week when a Panorama investigation uncovered a major breach of data protection law.
Dating website Usdate sold 10,000 personal records to an undercover BBC journalist. Many of the genuine people identified said they had not consented to sharing their data for resale; some said they had never used a dating website, and their details must have been shared by a third party.
It’s not the first time. At the end of July, BBC journalists found that a Scottish company, Cupid PLC, was using genuine user information to generate fake messages, thus encouraging the recipient to pay a fee.
Both cases are alarming because the data was being traded or manipulated outside the UK. In the case of Usdate, some of the users had never even used a dating site, suggesting their records had been obtained from one or more third parties.
Why Does Data Quality Matter?
Keeping personal data secure is a matter of ethical and legal importance, and businesses must ensure that they do not misuse data entrusted to them by the public. Some people happily opt in to mailing lists and marketing databases; others do not, and businesses must respect that.
Equally, out of data records can be an infringement in exactly the same way. Data quality must be maintained over the lifetime of a database, and that means:
- Ensuring records are always clean
- Using deduplication software to remove copies
- Cross-checking data accuracy, such as street names
- Updating records quickly when asked to
There are also benefits for businesses. In keeping records up-to-date, waste is reduced, and the chances of falling foul of the Data Protection Act or compliance guidelines are reduced or entirely eliminated.
Using Data Quality Tools
Manually keeping on top of customer data can be extremely difficult. Often, companies start off with fairly simple data capture and storage; over time, they may migrate to large CRM systems or cloud solutions that introduce new complications. A database that started out with clean data can quickly become out-dated, incomplete and inefficient, and that presents a problem.
To improve the quality of data, businesses can use deduplication software and email validation tools. After these data quality tools have been used, there is often a noticeable improvement to the business and its ROI; the sales team is better informed, marketing activies better targeted, and the business in a better position to comply with relevant laws and guidelines.
But how is it done?
- Deduplication effectively matches duplicate records, even where spellings are different or similar words have been used in each others’ place. Sophisticated matching software can process databases in multiple languages, and any records that are determined to be useless can be purged.
- Email validation can check the health of an email marketing list, discarding any addresses that are no longer in use without actually sending test messages.
Had Usdate cleaned its database using these two key data quality principles, it would almost certainly never have attracted the attention of the Information Commissioner. And by ensuring data quality in your organisation, you can avoid the same consequence.