Selling Your Personal Data

The Wall Street Journal recently published a thoroughly researched, somewhat fear-mongering analysis called "Selling You on Facebook."

The piece details the meteoric rise of apps on the Facebook grid and elsewhere that quietly track user behavior and collect, share and (possibly) exploit sensitive user information, including religious, political and even sexual preferences.

As this WSJ article underscores, three trends are clear:

1. Understanding and managing one’s privacy online is terribly complex. This includes everyone from digital Luddites to expert technologists and privacy wonks. I work in the ad-tech industry and I definitely don’t feel I have a full grasp on where all my personal data go.

2. Habituation and acceptance of data sharing is the norm. So far, there has been an absence of bad outcomes associated with app terms, conditions, warnings and actual usage. Therefore, society largely hits the “I accept” and “I agree” buttons with little or no thought -- like a monkey pulling a lever for a peanut. The cat is out of the bag. We’ve pulled our pants down and strapped monitoring transmitters to our waists.

3. Not only are people ignorant of where all their personal data reside and how they are being used, we haven’t begun to contemplate how our data crumbs may be used in the future.

To be sure, nobody knows if all this is good or bad. I believe technology’s impact will be positive in the end. But that’s just my personal opinion.

The only real certainty is that technology has leapfrogged social norms and laws, which now are struggling to gain footing and catch up. No doubt, the world will be very different for my kids and grandchildren.

But how does this matter to the advertising and ad-tech industries?

First, as the advertising industry lusts for more data, awareness of personal data-mining will rise broadly among prospects. As advertisers become effective at big-data mining, prospects increasingly will care and seek to manage their own data. No matter how much good occurs from better targeting and more personalized experiences, and despite mass habituation, possible mishaps and discomfort with changing norms will likely generate increasing scrutiny and skepticism. Indeed, analyses like the WSJ’s will fuel anxiety.

Second, let’s be honest about the experience of audiences and prospects in this new world of vast personal data-mining. Sure, many advertisers are predicting and targeting more accurately than ever before. A CMO would be a fool not to seize competitive advantage through personal data-mining and better targeting. But it doesn’t take a data scientist to see that the volume of aggregate messaging is also increasing, resulting in unprecedented clutter for prospects.

This combination of intensifying personal data-mining and frenzied message clutter could create a paranoiac atmosphere among prospects. That’s why, no matter where you sit in the advertising value chain, trust is king.

Of course, trust is not a new concept.

But during this period when technologies, norms and laws are in flux, the ad-tech industry must do so much more to build and sustain trust.

In fact, the smartest companies will embrace trust as a premium differentiator. Trust will help determine the winners.

Trust. Do you take it seriously?



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