Privacy Concerns are Overblown

I keep hearing about the importance of privacy, but people’s actions are contrary to their words.  The retail industry has been debating this topic, trying to figure out how much data to collect, store, and analyze.  Retailers want to serve their customers better by stocking shelves with the products they want, at the right price points, at the right time of year.  To achieve that goal means collecting as much data as possible.

I suppose retailers could interview shoppers as they enter and exit the store.  What did you come in for?  Did you find it quickly?  What path did you take through the store?  That would be pretty annoying and biased away from time-starved consumers, because they would say anything to move on.

So instead, retailers are considering in-store sensor that track people’s movements though the store and collect accurate, unbiased data about how they shop.  And for those consumers that opt-in and identify themselves, they’ll provide a more personalized experience with relevant offers and information.  “Oh my gosh, I’m being stalked!”

That’s the wrong way to look at it.  When you think about it, a butler and a stalker may be indistinguishable to an uninformed onlooker.  The big difference is in their motivations; the butler is trying to make your life easier.

Consumers say they want better shopping experiences, and their spending backs that up.  Look at the growth of Amazon.  How can Amazon be rated by consumers the #1 customer service retailer while Nordstrom is #10?  Has anyone actually ever talked to an Amazon representative?  Everything Amazon does is data-driven – data that is collected on its customers to improve the shopping experience.

Every click on the websites we shop is recorded.  Every purchase using a credit card is stored.  Every interaction with an ATM is videotaped.  If you’re carrying a mobile phone, you’re on the grid.  You’re kidding yourself if you think otherwise.

I love these surveys that ask shoppers how they feel about tracking their purchases and movements in stores.  Who’s really going to say they want to be tracked?  My privacy isn’t something I give away for free if I can help it.  People use credit cards even though all their purchases are tracked.  They use loyalty cards too.  They’ll post all day on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and, in some cases, their location is tracked there as well.  Why would they do that?

We trade privacy for benefits, quid-pro-quo.  The convenience of my toll-tag outweighs the fact that my drives are recorded. Yeah, I suppose the team at Law and Order can subpoena those records and figure out where I was at the time of the crime, but I’d like to think it’s more likely to provide an alibi than a conviction.

I’m all for limiting data sharing with third-parties, and I support the “right to be forgotten.”  I’m concerned about identity theft, and I don’t go around advertising my contact information.  So I guess I do value my privacy – I just don’t think a few beacons in my local stores are a big deal.  And I like the result of stores having better assortments, lower prices, and providing offers that interest me.

Comments: Target and TJX even more personally identifiable data is a good thing. At least there you're certain it all just gets funneled directly to the Russian Mafia along side your CC data rather than having to suffer thru all that maddening concern of if any of your data is secure.

Posted by guest on May 16, 2014 at 09:26 AM PDT #

Financial data is separate from behavioral data. Not sure that the Russian Mafia cares whether I turn right or left when I enter a store.

Posted by guest on May 16, 2014 at 09:33 AM PDT #

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