Who Gets To Define 'Creepy'?

The Washington Post published a profile of TripAdvisor last week. In their 15th year of operation, TripAdvisor has almost 900 employees and has recently moved into a $120 million complex outside of Boston. Containing over 250 million reviews and receiving 160 new submissions every minute, this travel review site has become a stalwart in the travel industry.

The article introduced the perks of the new office space and the typical tech culture of beer and games as part of the regular workday. Additional features of Trip Advisor were brought up, such as the ability to compare prices and book a hotel directly on the site.

What I found the most interesting was the move towards personalization. People expect that companies should know them, especially if they are regular customers. Receiving a “Dear Customer” email in this day and age is near sacrilege. Of course, this is nothing new as Dale Carnegie’s Principle #6 from How to Win Friends and Influence People states: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”



There is personalization in the form of hearing one’s name, and there is the personalization as defined by technology and marketing. In the article, an interview with senior VP Adam Medros explains the “Just for You” Feature:

“TripAdvisor offers hotel suggestions based on the user's predilections and research on the site. The more you share, the sharper the recommendations. Medros assured me that the tool wasn’t surveillance-style creepy. “It’s not spying,” he said, “but, ‘hey, I know your preferences.’”

Is it just me? When someone in the technology/marketing sector tells me that something that tracks my behavior isn’t creepy, it’s creepy. I’m certainly not naive about this type of marketing, as I’ve been immersed in it for years. Yet, I still cringe when there is an assurance made of “non-creepiness.”

As a marketer, I am fascinated by the technology and amazed at the level of personalization and customization that can be achieved. As a consumer and a parent, I am unsettled and a bit alarmed at the level of intrusiveness. While no data is paired with PII (personally identifiable information) at these companies, it would not be difficult, nor unthinkable, to be able to identify a person based on the data collected, even without the PII. 

One only has to remember the release of AOL’s search history data in 1996. With only a few hundred keyword searches, users were identified. We are a far cry from that simple list of search queries, as every user has a much larger digital footprint. Server logs gather a complete picture of each computer that requests pages. Add the IP address and geo-targeting technology, and you can be within a zip code of finding that user.

I am wary of tech companies telling the public that it is “not creepy.” Constant data hacks, compromised networks, and surveillance stories in the news do nothing to assure anyone that their identity is secure. Yet, it seems as though not enough has happened to give the consumer the ability to protect themselves and their information.

Personalization technology is at the place where people can choose to opt out. In other words, everyone is already opted-in. The thinking is, if it’s too creepy, they can always opt-out. We saw that with email, and ultimately that thinking was not acceptable. 

I am sure that we will see this trend again with personalization. I believe that the problem is knowing that many consumers will choose to opt-out, and the marketing will not be as effective. Yet, email survived that change of mindset, and it has flourished.

It may be past time for tech companies and marketers to define what is “creepy” and what is not. Maybe the travel consumer should decide for themselves the acceptable level of “creepiness” in which they are willing to participate.

3 comments about "Who Gets To Define 'Creepy'?".
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  1. Bob Sacco from Travel Ad Network/Travora Media, September 14, 2015 at 11:55 a.m.


    The FCC media ownership ruling ( had a huge loophole that they didn't address until 2014. The rule was a good rule that thwarted large media companies from a monopoly of media in a local market. 

    What most consumers don't realize is how they are being manipulated, herded and taken advantage of in the online travel space - cookies placed and different prices given for Macs vs. PCs, etc...etc....etc...Big data is here and they have "big data" on you and you are going lose every time. But it's not only the B2C space where this is happening, it's also happening in the B2B space. 

    Large online travel entities are bullying competition out of existence. This extends into VC investors in lock-step with their investments ignoring best practice and governance.

    RE: TripAdvisor example. Is it any wonder that TripAdvisor supplies reviews then posts links to booking engines they own? You get the picture. A simple Google search will also find a history of TripAdvisor posting phony reviews. 

    So, how do you define "creepy?" 

    As long as these companies squash competition it is going to remain creepy for consumers and any entrepreneur attempting to compete in this space.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 14, 2015 at 12:06 p.m.

    Creepy and extrememly dangerous - what you see/know and what you don't, now and worse, much worse later. 

  3. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, September 16, 2015 at 1:57 p.m.

    Change your browser !

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