By Colin Jowell

In case you hadn’t noticed, Privacy Awareness week kicked off on May 3. 

The timing of last week’s viral sensation from Microsoft is therefore supremely ironic. “How-Old.net” allowed users to upload pictures where the software would guess how old they were. The fact that it went viral due to its hilarious inaccuracy is a topic for another time. What many failed to notice was that by uploading the picture, you were in fact granting Microsoft full license to its use.

And what’s interesting to note is that people seem to be far, far less concerned with that.

We really don’t seem to care about privacy: the successful passing of metadata laws in March are further proof of that - phone companies will be required to store two years of your metadata which can be accessed by 21 security and policing agents. For the non-techies, your metadata includes the identity of the subscriber, the source, destination, date, time, duration and type of that communication. So it’s not the content (for which we can be relieved), but rest assured if this data is useful enough to enforce the telcos to spend an estimated $3.98 per customer a year, it’s valuable to someone, even if we don’t value it ourselves. Yet.

Putting aside the more alarmist Big Brother/Minority Report scenarios, which have begun to play out in real life, a really interesting form of marketing profiling is beginning to emerge. Maybe we don’t care about privacy because so far, no one has done anything truly invasive with it from a commercial perspective. In fact, despite having masses of data, most marketers would admit that their experiences are not nearly as personalized as they would like them to be. And if this data is used responsibly, then there shouldn’t be a problem. 

The future could look very different though.  As technology emerges that can read everything from our current mood to our current location, it’s quite possible that people will be “creeped out” and therefore opt-out.  How big a number this is, who can say?  Will we all choose the frictionless joy of having our next shopping decision, movie to watch or song to listen to, offered up to us, simply in exchange for an invisible handover of data? Or do marketers need to account for a new “privacy segmentation”, where we account for different customer experience based off how much information individual people are prepared to surrender?  Given how many people are arranging marches to Town Hall to commemorate Privacy Week, I suspect the default on this matter has already been ticked.

Things for marketers to consider:

  • How important is personalization to your future customer experience?
  • Have you considered different scenarios for those willing to hand over their data AND those who are not?
  • Does your segmentation need to be reviewed in light of the above?