Your Data, Your Business: Who “Owns” Data?

In a moment when privacy debates and scandals saturate tech headlines, it’s clear that neither businesses nor consumers can take privacy for granted. Every business and industry is being called on to prioritize security, as governments introduce new laws, consumers become more concerned about the implications of data sharing, and news of the latest data breach is trending. So what does this new reality mean for each of us on an individual consumer level?

The answer isn’t to shut off the grid and return to the days of phonebooks and dial-up. In fact, we benefit by giving companies a window into our lives. Without analyzing millions of users and their viewing preferences, our Netflix feeds would be a lot less relevant to our interests. And without implementing location data, Starbucks could never ensure the coffee you ordered ahead is hot when you drive up. As in life, in data there is give and take.

Many of these companies have changed the way we live our lives in ways that rely on the user advantages of smart technology. But no one wants their data used to violate their privacy.  

As such, internet companies with endless computing power and data storage share a critical responsibility to customers who entrust us with their preferences, searches, user histories, location information, and more.  

At OpenTable, we take this responsibility seriously. Above all, we strive to deliver useful products and services that come from data-driven insights within the parameters of the law and of our values.  

Currently, we have two sets of customers at OpenTable – restaurants and diners – and each have expectations when it comes to data use.  Restaurants care about filling seats and delivering exceptional hospitality. On the other hand, diners care about the ability to make a fast and simple decision on where to eat – and to be guaranteed a table in that restaurant. 

As a result, we have access to restaurant inventory data, which we use to improve experiences for our restaurant partners, from predicting table turn times to planning for their busiest hours. We also have user data, including where our diners previously ate, their favorite cuisines, dietary preferences, birthdays, and more. With each reservation booked, we are able to give them a better experience through smarter and more intuitive recommendations to match their preferences and help them choose from spots in every major city. We believe in serving up the perfect table for any occasion.

To do that well, we use data. We challenge ourselves daily by asking: How can OpenTable, with our vast network of diners and restaurants, use data to help diners discover their next great meal and enable restaurants to thrive? A second question follows closely behind: Where is the line between being useful and being invasive?  

This second question is one of trust. Trust that OpenTable is the best tool to help you manage your restaurants. Trust that when you plan a big night out, the table we helped you pick is perfect for your occasion. Trust that we are acting responsibly with the data of the millions of people who book and manage restaurants daily on our platform. 

So, as the world takes a tougher stance on privacy, so will we. As we develop products, our #1 priority is to provide great experiences, while being transparent in our use of data and providing users with more control over how that data is used. 

Too often, we hear the phrases “my data,” “your data,” or “my right to someone else’s data.” Our perspective is that these arguments are misguided— every customer has a right to privacy, and we should all be good hosts of the data entrusted to us. However, we can’t build that trust alone. We’re calling upon all of our restaurants, partners, and competitors to honor user data and respect customer privacy in the same way. Let’s use data responsibly to provide amazing hospitality experiences and respect that every piece of personal information – be it a phone number, an email, or how much a person tips – is deserving of privacy.

Please join us in this conversation. We would love to hear your feedback. 

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