Internet publisher Yahoo.com is cooperating with customer loyalty scheme Nectar to connect users’ (offline) shopping profiles with (online) user accounts so as to subsequently utilize this information for perfectly targeted online advertising campaigns.
Nowadays as well as in the past, users surfing on the net are exposed to ads coming from a multitude of providers, all trying to gain consumers’ attention and – of course – his/her personal data in order to eventually deliver tailored ads.
This system has already changed a bit. I now notice a tendency to try to lock users on platforms where there data is collected and where (tailored) ads are shown to them during their stay (iGoogle, Facebook, MySpace, etc.)
At my presentation in Salzburg, I’m presenting an idea according to which a consumer/user signs up at an “Advertising Provider” and in exchange for providing this provider with his personal details and the ability to fill all the advertising space in his browser while surfing, the consumer will be compensated for this by some sort of incentive (money, loyalty credits, etc.). This idea incorporates elements from the “Peter Pays” business idea, where users can make calls from their computer to foreign land-lines for free (!), but they have to watch ads while they are on the phone (and they have to prove that they’ve actually watched them by answering simple questions about the ad afterwards).
I think this move has both advantages and disadvantages. There is of course the looming risk that having a vast majority of your data stored with one provider will make abuse even simpler, as anyone wishing to (ab)use the data wouldn’t really have to search for it anymore; he/she will find it already perfectly stored in just one place. Thus also, sooner or later, the government and e.g. insurance companies will get hold of this data and use it (for example, just imagine your insurarnce company’s interest in knowing what food you buy etc.)
There might, however, also be a couple of advantages for users and advertisers: First and foremost, the data provided will enable perfectly tailored advertising, making ads more interesting for consumers, while at the other hand also reducing the advertising costs for advertisers. Secondly, the fact that all the data is stored in one single place might also present some benefits.
First of all there is one single opt-in, instead of many opt-outs. Secondly, as the data is stored in one place it might also make sense to address the provider, asking for a copy of the data held and/or ask the provider to change/rectify the data. This might sound naive to some readers, but the Austrian Data Protection act is very fine piece of legislation, grating the consumer e.g. the right to request a copy of all the information held about him once a year for free (please see my post on about how I’ve tried this myself.) Secondly I wonder if that provider, being the target of public criticism, wouldn’t be under much more scrutiny to prevent data leaks than e.g. any small loyalty program or online newspaper you have signed up for.
While preparing my presentation already a month ahead of the IRIS2010, I was only speculating about such a system. Reality however has “overtaken” me and today at the day of the presentation there is already such a programme, interconnecting offline identities with online accounts to deliver tailored ads.
The British, are -apparently- a nation that was fortunate enough never to have suffered under a government who has abused personal data for bad purposes. Thus, it did not come as an surprise to me that customer loyalty schemes provider Nectar and Yahoo! are using British consumers to perform the marketing masterpiece of connecting a offline consumer with an online (Yahoo!) account. Nectar offers its services (“Consumer Connect”) for a wide range of shops and one can only imagine the wealth of data available in their database.
Consumers, opting into the service “Consumer Connect” will then be supplied with ads, matching their online, as well as their offline- behaviour. Yahoo and Nectar however have of course pointed out that Nectar accounts are linked to their Yahoo! profiles without revealing personally-identifiable information.
Personal opinion about privacy & conclusion
Although I see no particular reason to distrust Yahoo!’s statement, I’d like to follow my credo that “people aren’t no good” & “what can be done, will be done“. I am almost amused by the thought that while some users are heavily protesting Google Streetview etc. more than 20.000 Nectar customer’s have already sold their privacy for the mere price of a chocolate bar.
I am personally strongly in favour of the idea of privacy as I think that the alternative, a user made out of glass, would lead to the effect that everybody whose behaviour is not 100% unsuspicious and normal will be seen as a potential suspect and will, as a consequence, suffer under the burden to proof that he/she has not done anything wrong (and sooner or later we all do something we should not have done. After all, doing wrong is just a part of learning.)