Stop it! You’re Being Creepy

15 Apr

clown2Excuse me while I seethe. I just attended a conference where the head of a major media lab explained to the audience all the wonderful new ways technology will let marketers track audiences.

The pinnacle of this tracking was a chip in new Internet TV sets that not only tracks what people are watching, but logs every mobile device on their home network for subsequent re-targeting.

“This is huge. In fact, I’m happy to say that we’ll be announcing a partnership with this company in the coming days,” he rather gleefully told us. Several audience members didn’t share his enthusiasm, especially the part about having their TV keep track of their mobile devices.

“Isn’t that an invasion of privacy?” asked one guy.
“Well, you will agree to it when you set up the TV,” media guy explained.
“But what if I don’t want to agree?”
“Then you shouldn’t buy an Internet TV.”

But that wasn’t the only great innovation he wanted to share. Another company is placing WiFi sensors at major public venues that can track every phone that passes by, recording the unique ID, then reporting all the places other places that phone is spotted. “With just a little bit of effort we can even link this data with what people buy. Imagine what we can do with profiles like that,” he told the audience.

Imagine indeed. I am seeing the enormous public backlash that will erupt when this data is used by insurance companies to keep tabs on the habits of their customers. Or worse yet, when this stalker data falls into the wrong hands, like hackers. You think the NSA revelations were upsetting, then just wait.

It is companies like these, and marketers like this media guy, that are exactly what is wrong with our industry today. They are so hell-bent on proving what can be done that they never pause to think about if it should be done. And if we, as an industry, don’t put the brakes on these guys, and fast, then the resulting blast crater will wipe out the good with the bad.

Time and again these companies will claim one of several defenses. Either they claim the data will never be sold with personally identifiable information, or that they’re doing a service to the public by allowing more appropriate targeting of messages.

Bullshit. Anyone claiming the data will never leave their servers with the PII is whistling past the grave yard. Shall we review all the companies who have seen their customer data hacked? A service to consumers?! If this is so valuable to consumers, then why don’t companies ask for permission in big, clear term? Because you never ask when you know the answer will be no.

And it’s all so dumb given what we know about the coming generation of consumers, those who are most wired. How many articles have been published about Millennias and their need to trust the brands that earn their money?

Has your company talked about creating relationships with your customers? What kind of relationship can a brand have with its customers when it uses technology to stalk them like a jealous spouse?

When this tracking technology finally goes too far and triggers outcry by consumer advocates, congressional inquiries and stories on network news, do you want your brand in the discussion?

Won’t THAT be awesome?