When is an individual not an individual?
Listening to the final session of the morning today at the Email Insider Summit there was much talk of the abiity to take and leverage data based on the behavior of individuals - obviously a boon from a targeting perspective, but to some at least, potentially contentious on the privacy front.
While there is no doubt that the means of harvesting data from multiple sources will continue to proliferate and inform how messages are targeted across different media will continue to proliferate, questions from the audience (and the responses they were met with) led me to ponder what may be an interesting anomaly.
While just about every cornmer of the marketing industry is keen to leverage data on individuals, when it comes to privacy the conventional mindset seems to be stuck in the old-style "stick-them-in-their-demographically-defined-boxes" mentality. Reference was made to how people under 25 thrive on making every detail of their lives public knowledge through social netwroks, whereas people over 25 do not.
While there is an element of truth to this in that the behaviors amy be more prevalent in one demographic than another, the statements nonetheless represent a massive simplification. Working on a campus, I could introduce you to students who put everything of themselves online and others who definitely do not (indeed, Ball State students on the panel at the EIS in May covered this spectrum of behavior and there were only three of them).
Similarly, for evidence of how those over 25 don't comply with the generalization above, look no further than your own Facebook / Twitter / etc. networks.
Yet still, the issue of privacy is still often approached in the simplistic way. It may not be quite "one size fits all", but it is clearly "one size fits large numbers of demographically homogenous people". Sadly, life isn't this simple and ultimately it will come back and haunt us unless we approach it differently.
Surely, if we can develop the means of capturing, mining and using data at the individual level we can also find a way to manage the issue of approaching privacy at the individual level too. We'd still find that the vast majoriy of people will fall into a relatively small number of categories of consent and permission states.
The reality is that if the industry wants to leverage data at the individual level to the fullest extent, it will have to meet the individual (not to mention consumer advocacy groups and regulators) part-way. Otherwise someone else will write the rules.