Thursday Sep 12, 2013

How much is your privacy worth?

I have an offer for you.  You tell me some details about yourself, like marital status, number of kids, where you live, your hobbies, etc., and I'll make sure all the advertising you see online and receive in the mail is relevant to you. No more receiving coupons for diapers when your kids are already driving.  No more online ads for dating services when you're married (unless, of course, your hobbies override this).  Fewer credit card applications in the mail (hey, at least they're not as bad as those AOL CDs we used to get).

Seems like a good deal to me.  You get offers you can actually use, the number of mailings that go straight into the trash are cut down, and advertisers get a bump in effectiveness.  Its all good, right?  Wait, you don't like the deal?  What if I can show you you'll actually receive discounts that exceed $100 each year?  That goes straight into your pocket.  No?  Well, how much is your privacy worth?

That's really the big question.  I'd venture to guess that if you're age 99-50 you won't put a price on your privacy.  49-31 will actually give it some thought and provide a number.  Those 30 and under aren't worried about privacy -- they appreciate the reduction in clutter and time savings.

My mother-in-law thinks the NSA is listening to her phone conversations, so my teen-aged son likes to throw in the occasional "bomb" or "hijack" during conversations just to taunt her.  My mother refused to use ATMs.  My dad carefully shredded every piece of discarded mail.  Contrast that with the constant sharing of personal information by teenagers, even in the face of increased identity theft and socially engineered hacks.  Its amazing to step back and look at the dichotomy between the levels of sharing across age groups.

So who's right?  In the words of Jessie Jackson on SNL, "the question is moot."  Retailers must continually adjust to the dynamic tastes of their customers. Is it proper to show a toilet on TV?  In the early days of TV it most certainly was not.  Thankfully, "Leave it to Beaver" broke down societies' hang-ups and sneaked one past the censors.

Nordstrom tried an experiment this summer by tracking mobile phones in their stores.  The fact they were doing this was posted at the entrances, and no personally identifiable information was collected.  They just wanted to see how often anonymous shoppers visited, how long they stayed, and their path through the store.  This is really no different than the cookies in your Web browser.  The same information can be obtained using cameras or simply by following people, but the mobile phone makes it much cheaper to do.  It wasn't until the media proclaimed "big brother is watching you shop" that there was backlash.

AdAge recently reported on the D2 Digital Dialogue conference in which Julie Bernard, senior VP-customer strategy, marketing and advertising of Macy's, spoke on retailers collecting and using customer data. "The media has spun this story so negative, and it's really a shame that people in our positions have not taken a more dominant position on speaking on the macro and micro economic benefits of delivering relevancy by responsibly using customer data."  She went on to say, "There's a funny consumer thing.  They're worried about our use of data, but they're pissed if I don't deliver relevance. … How am I supposed to deliver relevance and magically deliver what they want if I don't look at the data?"

Good question.  My recommendation is to keep trying.  Knowing that consumers' attitudes are changing, its important to "skate to where the puck is going, not where its been."  This is a journey in which we'll move slowly, at each step ensuring its always a win-win for both retailers and consumers, and always acting responsibly.

By the way, if you'd like to take me up on that original offer, Acxiom allows you to access and edit the data they've collected on you at  The screen-shot above is from that site.


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