Privacy for a Price

A few weeks ago, I went to my usual haircut place and after the trim at the register I presented my loyalty card.  You know the heavy paper ones that either get stamped or hole-punched for each purchase.  After a certain number of paid visits, you receive a free haircut.  I presented the card, still in the early stages of completion, for validation and the manager said I could convert the partially filled card to their new system.  I just had to enter my email address (and some other info) in the little kiosk thingy.  I declined saying, 'Ah, no thanks, enough people have my email already and don't need yet another daily digest.'  He continued, 'well, we are doing away with the cards and moving all electronic so...'  'That's ok,' I replied, 'I'll pay for that extra/free haircut to keep my name off a mailing list.' 

This event, of course, got me thinking about human nature and how we will often give up some privacy for either convenience or something free.  Imagine a stranger walking up to you and asking for your name, address, email, birthday, income level, favorite color and shopping habits.  Most of us would tell them to 'fill in the blank'-off.  Yet, when a Brand asks for the same info but includes something in return - free birthday dinner, discounted tickets, coupons, personalized service - we typically spill the beans.

Infosys recently conducted a survey which showed that consumers worldwide will certainly share personal information to get better service from their doctors, bank and retailers; yet, they are very sensitive about how they share. Today’s digital consumers are complicated and sometimes suspicious about how institutions use their data, according to the global study of 5,000 digitally savvy consumers.  They also created an infographic based on their findings.

Overall they found:

  • 82 percent want data mining for fraud protection, will even switch banks for more security;
  • 78 percent more likely to buy from retailers with targeted ads, while only 16 percent will share social profile;
  • 56 percent will share personal and family medical history with doctors

...and specific to retail:

  • To know me is to sell to me: Three quarters of consumers worldwide believe retailers currently miss the mark in targeting them with ads on mobile apps, and 72 percent do not feel that online promotions or emails they receive resonate with their personal interests and needs
  • To really know me is to sell me even more: A wide majority of consumers (78 percent) agree that they would be more likely to purchase from a retailer again if they provided offers targeted to their interests, wants or needs, and 71 percent feel similarly if offered incentives based on location
  • Catch-22 for retailers? While in principle shoppers say they want to receive ads or promotions targeted to their interests, just 16 percent will share social media profile information. Lacking these details could make it difficult for retailers to deliver tailored digital offers

Your data is valuable and comes with a price.  While many data miners are looking to capitalize on our unique info, you can always decline.  Yes, it is still probably already gathered up somewhere else; Yes, you will probably miss out on some free or discounted something; Yes, you will probably see annoying pop-up ads on that free mobile app/game and; Yes, you might feel out of the loop. 

But, it was still fun to be in some control over my own info leaks.




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Published Oct 22, 2013
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  • Arie's avatar
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    My job while I was in college entailed calling people to query them about their grocery shopping. We had to rattle off long lists to see if people had purchased certain products that day. Potatoes, Other Vegetables, Dog Food, Cat Food, Pasta, Chips, Soda, etc.


    Each completed survey netted the company a pretty penny (glad I got paid by the hour, though). Needless to say, this self-reporting was somewhat inaccurate.


    Then came loyalty cards. For a fraction of the cost companies were suddenly able to very accurately track their customers' purchasing habits. I estimate that the loyalty cards enable companies to obtain very detailed, accurate data on at least 50-100 customers for the same cost of a single interview back then...


    It's not merely your name/address you're selling for a few pennies to each merchant, but your entire, detailed shopping life.