Tracking: Personalization Versus Privacy
As you sit in the restaurant, the tablet presenting the menu recognizes you: “Welcome back (insert your name here). May we suggest you enjoy a cold (insert your favorite beer) while you browse today’s specials? Based on your prior choices, our chef recommends…”
This example is not real. Yet. Or at least I haven’t seen it. But it’s possible with today’s technology, Steven Spielberg’s 2002 movie Minority Report featured personalized advertisements that would recognize not only you, but also your state of mind. Personalization is the use of technology to dynamically insert, customize or suggest content in any format, and make it relevant to the user based on implicit behavior, preferences and explicitly given details.
Ten years after Minority Report we already have devices on the mass market such as Leap Motion’s Leap —a motion-sensing peripheral which allows users to interact with their computers in 3D using bare hands and finger movements with a precision of 1/100th of a millimeter (over 200 times more precise than Microsoft’s Kinect)— or the recently announced GSpeak (which certainly resembles a Minority Report copycat, motion-sensing gloves and all).
As mentioned in an earlier post, by the end of 2012 there will be more mobile devices on the planet than people. And every time we use a smartphone, tablet or computer to browse a website, tweet, or “check in” on Facebook—or just by activating the GPS, texting or making a call—we leave traces that can be used to obtain information about our implicit behavior and preferences. Behavioral marketing techniques could be applied on other environments, in combination with other targeting parameters such as geographical location, demographics or sociological context. Imagine the possibilities for science, tourism, or medicine, to cite just a few fields that would benefit from these advances.
Nevertheless, a major drawback lies in the security and privacy of such applications. As shown in a visual explanation of the tracking process recently published in The Wall Street Journal, tiny tracking files can watch what you do on-line and develop a profile of your behavior: page visits, amount of time spent on each page, links clicked, searches completed, tweets that get re-tweeted, GPS position, number of texts sent or calls made. All these behavioral data allow publishers and advertisers to increase the effectiveness of their campaigns. But when the data capture is done without user knowledge or consent, it may be considered a breach of security—even considered illegal by many countries’ privacy, data protection and consumer protection laws.
We have all seen websites that recommend books based on previous purchases or other readers’ recommendations, or propose songs or bands similar to the one you are listening to. Going back to our initial example, then, would it be so weird if the restaurant recommended food and drinks similar to what you ordered before? Or if the TV in your hotel room recommended scenic routes, museums, or beaches nearby based on your preferences and lifestyle? Even better, what about letting your mobile phone decide on what film to watch when you get to the movie theater? Sounds exciting, right?
But what happens with your privacy? Here is where people start getting reluctant, especially when we read that phone calls are being monitored is over computer networks and police are tracking mobile phones, or that the on-line and phone apps we use daily are sharing large amounts of personal data.
What about your personal experience? Do you feel tracked? Does it bother you? Would you be willing to share more personal information to get better and more personalized services in return, if you were assured of the security of your data? In what fields do you think that these innovations would make a bigger impact?
Jorge Gomez serves as VP of Global Strategic Alliances at Andago, where he analyzes business opportunities and develops new market initiatives, increasing Andago’s Health and Wellness ecosystem of partner companies. Jorge combines his Computer Science engineering vision with an Executive International MBA background, along with a thriving passion for state-of-the-art technologies and World cultures.