There’s a fine line that businesses can walk between making customers feel special by tailoring goods and services to their known habits and preferences, and generate feelings of creepiness in them because it seems that you know just a little too much personal information about them.
The world of Big Data is one where people’s demographic information, spending habits, search histories, even favored locales, are all harvested, processed, and sent off to businesses for the purposes of determining everything from marketing strategies to how late they should stay open on Thursdays. On one hand, it’s fair that a business would like to know the customers’ likes, dislikes, and interests, in order to provide a better experience and also remain competitive. But on the other, intruding on people’s privacy is an off-putting situation that may result in customers avoiding the business in question.
Privacy has been a concern in the United States since the very beginning. That’s why we’re going to take a look here at some privacy issues that are associated with Big Data collection.
Let’s start with a huge issue that’s near and dear to a lot of people’s hearts. It seems you can’t open a newspaper (or click on a news article link, yeah we’re keeping up with the times!) without reading about some data breach at a major retail chain or credit card company. The majority of Americans are unhappy with how much information companies collect on them because of the publicized security and data breaches.
When users visit a website, they may not realize that they are most likely providing information like their IP address, the pages they’re viewing, and what page brought them to the site in the first place. Great for marketing, sure, but also enough to make a casual web surfer uncomfortable. In response to this, some companies are implementing cookies with shorter timelines, or taking steps to make the data anonymous faster.
You only have to log into Facebook and poke around for a while before you find some outraged post explaining how consumers can be tracked via their smart phones. While some people don’t mind this, there are a lot of people out there who feel uncomfortable at knowing that their whereabouts can be pinpointed via GPS, FourSquare, or GoogleMaps, and accessible to anyone who has the means of gathering that information.
There are sites out there that don’t allow a user to access pages or services unless they provide certain information. It can be as innocuous as a name and e-mail address, to more intrusive details such as zip code, gender, age, etc. Giving out too much personal information, especially if the visitor is only interested in taking a casual look around or making a single, isolated purchase, makes people think twice about going through with it. In response to this, some websites are featuring better designed opt-out pages so that people can simply refuse to give out information and not be penalized by having page access blocked.
There are a lot of types of personal information that the average consumer can look up about themselves and see what’s been said or recorded, say, for instance, a credit history. But the average consumer has no way at all of knowing what Big Data miners and aggregators have on them. That information is unavailable. So people have no idea, and are denied the ability to find out, what companies know about them. Americans have no legal right to access the personal information that third parties have on them.
These are but some of the issues that go hand in hand with Big Data collection. While consumers do want a better shopping experience tailored to their needs and wants, many of them don’t want to pay too steep a price in terms of privacy. It’s an ongoing balancing act that still has a long way to go before equilibrium is established. Standards and practices haven’t caught up with the technology yet; it will be interesting to see where it all goes.