Privacy is a Myth!

May 24, 2016

The title of this blog will raise many eyebrows. After all, don’t we all cherish our privacy? We don’t want people or organizations to obtain information about us that we are not willing to share. But the reality is that in today’s connected world, much more is known about the consumer than most of us realize. Consider these trends:

  • The proliferation of connected devices – the silos in digital advertising are breaking down. Connected devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and IoT endpoints (including connected at-home products), generate data that can be used to accurately predict user characteristics and determine the user intent. Determining user demographics, based on information derived from digital/online activities is a common practice. Determining user identities across device environments, and leveraging data generated from different devices for cross-device ad re-targeting, was the next evolution of this paradigm.  So, for example, a consumer can see an ad for a particular product, such as an auto accessory, on a smartphone based on his/her activity in a laptop of a tablet (for example, if they have been browsing for auto parts on e-commerce websites).
  • Bridging physical and digital environments – location-based data, user identity matching, beacons, and website registration data can be used to continue the advertising/marketing conversations across physical and digital environments. For example, the ability to proactively drive customers to a store with relevant, personalized offers on their smartphones is a preferred use case in mobile advertising.
  • Gathering product usage data – product usage information is one of the potential information sets that can be collected by manufacturers of connected products. This information can be used for identifying appropriate marketing opportunities to consumers, and even automating transactions.  An example is the automatic ink ordering service offered by Brothers International Corporation in its smart printers that can automatically trigger an ink or toner shipment from Amazon.com.

The industry has adopted strong privacy protection technologies to ensure that individuals cannot be identified directly. At the same time, associating an identifier with personal devices owned by the user, and tracking that device closely gives a pretty good idea of users’ preferences and can help predict their behavior. This is what Big Data analysis is all about – deriving information from the astronomical number of structured and unstructured data sets that are constantly being generated as a direct or an indirect result of consumers’ daily activities. This may almost seem like an algebra problem, where finding “x” (the consumer) is the objective of machine-algorithms currently being used for determining the right audience for targeted advertising. Don’t be surprised if you start to notice that you are receiving a ton of ads for a particular restaurant chain in your online sessions after visiting that restaurant in person. After all, they are targeting you “anonymously”.


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Vikrant Gandhi

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Fourteen years of product marketing, research, and consulting expertise, which includes supporting clients’ needs through more than 140 syndicated market research deliverables and consulting assignments. Particular expertise in Assessing next-generation telecommunications trends, technologies and market dynamics; Helping clients develop and execute their go-to-market strategies; Providing continuous inputs to clients into new market developments and helping them understand the strategic implications.


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