When Tracking Becomes Creepy

  |  December 8, 2011   |  Comments

How do you balance awesome service and consumer privacy?

imag0998-2Last week Trevor Eckhart, a security researcher, posted a video where he detailed how the hidden software on your smartphone can track your various activities. This is controversial because it's installed as a diagnostic tool without your permission and can log activities such as keystrokes, sent and received text messages, web browser searches, and so on.

Congress has now officially stepped into the Carrier IQ controversy with many smartphone owners demanding an explanation about how the technology is used.

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had proposed key changes about what could be tracked, how companies should let their consumers know about the tracking, and how a consumer could opt out of the tracking.

The challenge for both consumers and companies is balancing "awesome service" and "consumer privacy." Think about the scenarios listed below. Would you consider this tracking to be creepy or good service?

You just checked into a hotel; they tracked your smartphone and watched you walk in from the parking lot. Your check-in folio was ready for you. That is awesome service. You proceed to your room. They now watch your every move; they know what you're watching on TV, they know what you ordered from room service, and they know what sites you visited on the web. They know you because of your past stays, and now they are tracking your every move to try and personalize your experiences even more.

You have offers being slid under your door, being served up on your TV, targeted ads on your computer, personalized messaging in the elevator, and the manager "bumped" into you on three different occasions. Her offers to you were personalized. You seem not to mind because the offers were relevant.

You drive away the next morning in your rental car. They can track every turn. Billboards change their messaging for you as you drive by. An advertiser starts speaking to you on XM radio. You are a little freaked out as you scurry for cover and dive into a restaurant.

You slip into a corner asking for a cup of java. The reality is that you cannot get away because your phone knows and conveys your presence. It allows geo-targeting and your server knows that it is one cream, two sugars. The jukebox strikes up your favorite tune and the server asks if you would like their fruit crepe combo.

You have never been to this restaurant and it's not a chain; but they subscribe to the "Preference Factory" - one of many companies that sells personalized consumer data on demand. The Preference Factory pulls your data - tracking you across real and virtual channels. Your virtual channels include digital, mobile, and social.

Now, would you consider this tracking "awesome service" or downright creepy?



Sundeep Kapur

Sundeep Kapur has been assisting organizations with their converged channel marketing strategies since 1990. From direct marketing to digital to converged, he is a passionate teacher who works with businesses across multiple industries, helping them to enable technology and services to brand, and personalize and speak to consumers more effectively.

He is an industry-recognized expert who has delivered keynotes, run panels, and delivered "relevant, inspirational, and outstanding" education for organizations around the world.

Sundeep is also an avid user of social media, having leveraged words, pictures, and video into a conversational digital book. His daily dose of best practices can be found at www.EmailYogi.com, where he has more than 1,200 articles on best practices.

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