Privacy headlines in the news recently…
In case you didn’t know behavioral targeting is a system that uses analysis of users behavior to more effectively target content to them that will ultimately lead to conversion. For example you visit my site having searched for the word Privacy issues and instead of showing you the home page I suggest that you go straight to this article.
It would be a little like walking into a shop and the shopkeeper offering you a red jumper because you had searched for one on Google that morning. It could feel a little bit spooky. alternatively you might want a Red jumper and then it would be the best thing ever because the shop keeper had just saved you the hassle of looking for or asking for the red jumper.
So whats the problem, if its making my life easier then great?
A couple of the marketeers suggested that we could get over the perceived issues by renaming the term Behavioral target to something more friendly like “Content renationalisation tool” or something. Might work, and yet this just deals with a symptom and makes it acceptable to the marketers that want to use it. The bigger issues and the issues outlined in the articles above are who owns the data? who can access it? and how can it be used?
These are big questions, and the answer to the first part, who owns it, is simple. Generally when we access a website (or sign up to a store card, loyalty scheme and even make a purchase in a shop) we agree to a set of terms and conditions, generally that no-one ever reads (I have web stats that prove it) . in these you grant ownership of this data to the companies that want to use it, bringin the term “sign your life away” into sharp focus.
The second, Who can access it? is becoming a lot more blurred. Before the rise of the internet and especially social media most of this data was held in private databases by the company that created it, and this is still the case in many instances. Increasingly however, this data is stored across a number of places and linked through connection tools such as APIs. Some data is pretty publicly available like Facebook status updates, personal details on your Google profile and where you are on Foursquare. Other data is securely held but as we have seen can sometimes get out, like Search data.
This for me poses a number of questions, are we careful enough with our data, both from the point of view of what we agree to let companies collect and also from the point of view of what we put out there freely and abundantly. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that if you are on holiday in America (Checked in on Foursquare) you are not at your home address that you post on Facebook. Privacy campaigners are up in arms about this and Eric Schmidt claims that people will have to change their names. These4 things are linked, people have to take responsibility for what gets out there and it will happen only when a few high profile cases come to the Public’s attention. However there is a case that this isn’t easy to do. I think it is fair to say that Facebook are using the Trial and Error method of getting it right and every timethey get it wrong more and more data slips into the public domain without users knowing. Internet companies must take notice of this and start thinking about it BEFORE the mistakes are made. I don’t think that we need some kind of Law on this as it would be impossible to control and Laws like this only tend to hinder the people who would have done it right in the first place anyway.
This brings us to the final questio0n of How can it be used? My answer to this is that, as with anything in the user experience world, its about making sure that peoples wishes and expectations are met or exceeded. So if you are using it to enhance peoples experience and hopefully improving your companies performance in some way shape or form you are going to be going in the right directions. But beware, as soon as it becomes spooky in any way then you need to watch out, people will become suspicious about you.
So to collect, use and manipulate this data in any way you need to
- Be open, honest and above board and you should be fine.
- Safeguard the data, this is paramount so leak it at your peril.
- Make sure that users can control their level of public/private profile to every extent. As people wise up to the risks it will become more and more of a demand.