The Dawn of the Datasexual

We generate a huge amount of digital exhaust on a daily basis. This refers to the data output as a result of our activities both online (browsing, search, social) and offline (mobile social, photo, location and utility apps).

Such data has tremendous value and every digital brand is trying to create new ways to monetize it. With the exponential improvement in data storage and processing “big data,” web platforms like Facebook and Google are primed to find new ways to tap data to help their advertisers find the right audience. For example, by combining a large number of signals from a user’s actions and those of their friends, Facebook has been able to craft highly personalized user experiences and create new kinds of targeted advertising business such as sponsored stories.

Beyond advertising, Facebook has collected the most extensive data set ever assembled on human social behavior. By combining this information with a map of the many social connections users make online, Facebook has an incredibly rich record of all our lives and interactions.

Just think about it: From a micro perspective, the power of pure unadulterated data – insights that you would never be able to get out of any focus group. The juiciest data about our behaviors: helping fill in the where, when, what, and how people live their lives and allowing partner brands to work out the “why” and customize branded experiences for us.

From the macro perspective, collective data on user segments can be broken down, analyzed, and visually represented into useful information to determine consumer trends or predict behaviors. An example is how Facebook can be used to show peak relationship breakup periods in the year based on status updates.

The main reason for this huge influx of digital data is the dawn of the “Datasexual.” People who spend a lot time documenting their lives and who relentlessly pour over data about themselves as a way to satisfy their human need for self-awareness and presentation.

Complementing this, new peripherals in mobile devices such as the introduction of the GPS and camera as standard in smartphones and the use of an accelerometer and gyroscope in devices to track acceleration, movement ,and tilt have all it possible for us to document and keep track of our physical lives. Combining that with ubiquitous computing, it allows us to process the data output from our physical behaviors to aid self-discovery and improvement.

There’s even the hint from this patent that your future Apple ear buds will be able to track your blood oxygen level, body temperature, and heart rate.

For consumers, such mobile utilities have manifested into apps that can:

– Help you live healthier like Fitbit, Jawbone UP and Healthseeker. – Let you document your life in a digital journal like Path. – Track your sports activity and help you improve your game like Nike + Fuelband, Nike Golf 360. – Make interesting discoveries about people, events, and places around you like and Sonar.

From a brand point of view, the value in creating these apps or partnering with app developers is the ability to derive meaningful data that can help marketers further develop a product or create targeted experiences via deep profiling of consumer behavior.

As part of its Healthy Living series, GE has developed a series of mobile applications that help consumers manage their health. It’s Sleep On It Appis an alarm clock and sleep tracker that helps users analyze their sleep quality and mood to determine what affects their sleep and how much rest they need to get to be fully optimal and energized. For the brand, the app provides GE with sleep habits and data from consumers all around the world, which they can then use to help with their research and product development.

Massive Health has created ‘The Eatery,” an app that tracks and analyzes people’s eating patterns, which allows consumers to take real steps to improve their diet and health. Through a period of 5 months, it allowed the company to collect over 7 million pieces of data from people in 50 countries, which they released as an infographic about how people think they eat versus how healthy they actually ate. Such macro data has potential to drive scientific research to improve diet and healthcare globally. At the same time, there are huge opportunities for commercial uses of the data collected, to inform and be leveraged by relevant food and nutrition brands to better develop, market to and engage with these users.

On a more commercial front, consider this Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush by Beam Technologies that  contains a sensor and Bluetooth radio. It will send your brushing information to a smartphone app, allowing you to track your brushing habits, such as how long you spent brushing in certain areas, to encourage better brushing. Now imagine if major brands like Oral B or Colgate created an app like this where it allows them to simultaneously conduct research on consumers while communicating with them at key points – replacement of toothbrush and recommendations of products.

Marketing in this form is integrated within a branded utility. Instead of telling people what they should do or buy, the app leverages what we know about them to be relevant and to change their behaviors at the appropriate time and space.

The introduction of Placeme, an iOS and Android app will be a game changer in the field of personal tracking. The app uses every sensor in your handset to track your activities, location, and environment without requiring you to check-in. It simply records and learns everything about you – where you shop, your route to work, who you visit etc. A potential commercial layer can be easily built on this to allow a multitude of brands to tap of the data, profile users and target product and location recommendations in real time based on relevance and context.

Let the Buyer Beware

The downside in such levels of data transparency is the loss of privacy and both Facebook and Google have had to deal with issues related to this.

Consumers have found out the hard way and one recent example is how Facebook’s Frictionless sharing has started distressing users having their more embarrassing reading habits headlined on their friends’ wall feeds despite not having given explicit permission to share.

Recently, there have also been cases where users’ posts were taken out of context and used as an endorsement in Facebook sponsored stories.

In this chilling reference, photojournalist Hana Jakrlova took series of photos at a Prague brothel where customers could trade their privacy for free services. If you think about it, in a way, this policy is an extension of the deal we all make online. We essentially give up our privacy in exchange for the free use of our favorite sites.

Home page photo from Shutterstock.

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