The Privacy vs. Personalisation Conflict

There will be those who firmly sit in either camp, but increasingly perhaps there are those like myself who sit with one foot firmly poised either side of the fence.  Whilst I respect the need for privacy, I also see the opportunity to harness data to serve a personalised user experience; at the right time, in the right place and importantly with the right message.


The press continue to address the subject, such as the recent Guardian article – Shops can track you via your smartphone, privacy watchdog warns.  The article highlights that unbeknown to most of us, data is being harvested from your mobile phone – the web pages your view, the apps you use, the geolocation of where you’ve been and regularly visit – big brother is indeed watching.  The irony here is whilst the journalist is scaremongering you about the data being gathered from your smart phone, at the same time that you are reading this article, the Guardian has allowed data companies to be capturing your data to then sell on to advertisers.  Just take a look – whilst some of these are for internal data capture (Google tools, etc), there are 26 pixels and tags in total on the site capturing who you are, and building a profile of your online behaviour, interests and potential purchase intentions.  Data is courtesy of a clever little chrome plugin Ghostery.


Outrageous I hear you think, I never agreed to this invasion of smartphone privacy – well folks you actually did.  Unbeknown to most of us, we all agreed for our personal data to be mined, whenever we hit that agree button rather than trawling through the 30 pages of terms and conditions at the last software update.  In fact, why not check for yourself (apologies to Android users) but go into the Privacy menu on your iPhone, scroll to the bottom and click on advertising, and the section ‘About Advertising & Privacy’ and you’ll soon realise you’re opted in to giving away your deepest and darkest secrets!


Laying aside the privacy issue for a moment, but in a world where advertising is intrusive and unavoidable – what if it could be personally tailored to you?  Excuse the simpleness of the example, but you’ve decided like a lot of us that you really should start to exercise regularly and have been reading up on how to get into running.  You’ve watched videos on YouTube, read blogs, articles on Runners World and have recently been into local sports stores.  You are now served messages about buying running gear, with introductory offers and rather than the same messages over and over again, there is some sequential differences based on your interactions and further research.

In theory this sounds great, but I will admit that as extensive as data is it often doesn’t know when to stop.  You’ve now bought all your running gear, you’ve been out on those first few painful runs and yet you are still being bombarded with running gear offers and messaging.  There are some advertisers who really need a 101 in frequency capping; leaving a bitter taste in people’s mouths and negating the efforts of those trying to do this well.  I’ll admit it’s far from perfect yet, and the use of multiple devices creates further challenges to be overcome.

The conflict rages on, and with the rise of connected devices and ‘internet of things’ for those of us concerned about protecting our data, the task will only get tougher.  On the flip side, more data, harnessed and organised correctly can only help to fuel the personalisation quest.  If only my budget would stretch to one of those new shiny fridges that orders food for me.