Most business owners have probably heard about big data and it’s potential for improved marketing and customer satisfaction, but as we learned from Instagram’s recent PR fiasco due to its consumer privacy changes, there is a line between mutually beneficial and invasive.

The Computer Business Review reports about the event, “The popular photo-sharing service received a backlash from its community of users after updating its terms of use to allow the company to own rights to uploaded photos through its service.”

In a CBR interview, James Lusher, a social media specialist at Fishburn Hedges, Lusher says:

“The Instagram service agreement outcry has once again reignited the ‘data/cost’ debate. It’s no secret that technology giants continuously look to stretch boundaries to stay ahead of the competition and offer users a fresh service. But the difficultly is in getting the balance between innovation and customer trust.

As more and more companies, not just Facebook and Google, look to harness the benefits of mining ‘big data’, they need to be aware of the PR implications, and communicate how they intend to use this data transparently and responsibly.

It’s clear that there is still much skepticism from consumers and uncertainty over the real cost of a ‘free’ social media service. However, the media shouldn’t simplistically accuse these companies. When used responsibly, data is an extremely powerful and beneficial asset to both brands and consumers; consumers just need to be able to locate the opt-out button.”

Vanessa Barnett, technology and media lawyer at Charles Russell LLP explains, “…  there’s no free lunch on the Internet and the modern currency is not pounds, shillings and pence but personal data. What matters, and what the law says, is that if you collect and use personal data, you need to be transparent about it…”

Big data can be a huge benefit to both businesses and consumers – but it is important to remember to go about it ethically.