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Karthik Kannan

Karthik KannanAs big data continues to permeate the world of business, it’s vital to keep the customer in mind — and not only as part of a target market with identifiable purchasing trends, but also as individuals who follow their instincts and want control over their personal data.

Karthik Kannan, the Thomas Howatt Chaired Professor in Management at Purdue University, has pioneered a process called “design for instincts” that he defines as designing systems in a manner that is instinctually appealing and allows people to respond in an intuitive manner.

“It’s a very simple yet profound concept,” Kannan says. “If we can successfully appeal to the human instincts of the target audience and achieve the desired outcomes, then why should it be limited to marketing? Why not adopt it across all parts of the organization?”

As businesses grow in this age of rapid technology change, they’re having to pivot more quickly as technological innovation impacts everything from creating products to developing systems for protecting consumers’ data.

“We’re thinking about a more structured way of doing these things,” Kannan says. “Companies need to design products, processes or policies appealing to human instincts to be successful.”

Among those instincts is safety and security, both physically and virtually. The scandal involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, for example, is the most recent in a troubling trend of information security mishaps in which data belonging to millions of users is hacked, leaked or leveraged irresponsibly.

As a result, the nationwide movement to delete Facebook is gaining more traction than previous public protests calling for privacy and transparency, Kannan says.

“In many cases involving marketing, we appeal to emotions, so it is not surprising this has happened in politics,” he says. “Some companies are removing the option to login through Facebook in response to the latest events. Other companies, like Tesla, have completely removed their Facebook presence. Those decisions may depend on how they use social media.”

Kannan says the ongoing backlash should serve as a reminder that companies unable to safeguard private information will face consequences.

“While these implications may seem trivial at first glance, there is an increased awareness around privacy issues,” he says. “We may be seeing significant shifts in companies in terms of how they manage user profile data, but it remains unclear to what extent other firms will use these profiling data for behavioral nudges.”

Such movements could ultimately spur a democratization of data, allowing users, rather than companies, decide how their information is collected and shared. “There is increasingly a need for us to design a mechanism to allow consumers control over their data,” Kannan says.