Notice and control will be key as new retail technologies encroach more on your privacy. The next bit of technology to play the squirrel at an upcoming board meeting will monitor your mood as you come into a store. What I really liked about Mashable’s article on this is the example of offering your whiskey if you appear lonely on a Friday night. Actually it’s what I also didn’t like about this technology. The problem is what notice are folks given and how much control they have over it.
Consumers generally will give up huge amounts of information in exchange for something. The value exchange is faulty though. What are you actually getting and what are you actually giving up and what is the downstream harm you might face. The statement that “we’ve traditionally seen shoppers parting with personal information … if they receive additional convenience or savings in trade,” as stated by Brad Lawless at Collective Bias, misses the point in my mind.
The three legged stool, folks – all legs matter
What are you really giving the consumer? They are giving you huge amounts of information. In this new technology they are even giving you more. Correlating mood data with other information raises huge concerns for me. Are you tracking me across multiple shopping sessions? How long before your life insurance company buys that from the retailer? Are you alone when you buy that whiskey on a Friday night, do you look downtrodden. Combine that mood data with your travels through the store with WiFi tracking and the implications are very Minority Report.
Value exchange is only one of my legs. Notice and control are just as important. You need to effectively put your consumers on notice of this type of information gathering. I am actually at a loss as to how to do this in the physical space. Signs may be effective. The problem isn’t what is legally required, because there is good law out there about signage being effective for things like picture taking. I think if notice was legally required, a small sign at the entrance would suffice. My problem is effective notice. The potential for this technology to backfire on you is huge, so just checking the legal box will not be enough. Put yourself in the feet of your user as they walk into your store and think about what they would want.
Control is the third of the legs and this is where this tech really gets scary. Offering me incentives, present and future, are great things. Where the data is held at just the store and nowhere else I have some peace. The problem is the control of that data when downstream uses are considered. Insurance underwriting is the first thing that comes to mind. What about loan underwriting? Companies are already considering looking at your friends to determine if you are credit worthy. What happens when they look at your mood as you purchase items at the local retailer? Perhaps you binge buy things you don’t need. What about correlating what you buy with what you have, or your annual income. Now someone makes a value decision about whether you should have that 75” TV.
Selling it to the consumer
The president of Lifeway Foods, Julie Smolyansky, states it very plainly as well when she says that “[i]t will be hard to personalize the shopping experience like this without feeling creepy.” While some in the privacy space don’t like the use of the word creepy as it is so amorphous, it is the best that we have. It is a very smudgy line. What is creepy for some, is not creepy for others. Do you have to plan and design for the most private of people? Absolutely not, but you need to think about what their concerns are.
Planning for the edge cases practically makes the sell for the average consumer that much easier. I think it also helps you out when this whole thing blows up in your face. Remember when the garbage cans where tracking you in England? Their response was absolutely ridiculous. If mood tracking blew up in your face, what is your response? “Our consumers get great value from this technology, and they are offered the opportunity to opt out every time they enter our store.” That would be a great response when the inevitable journalist comes calling.
The interesting thing about selling this to the consumer every time an information collection takes place is that it gives you the ability to justify it to others. The other interesting thing is that consumers will change their attitudes over time. Some days they will feel ok with the collection. Some days it will feel creepy. But if every time the data is collected you are providing them the opportunity to understand what is going on, you will be in the best place.
Be the leader in this space
I think what I am proposing here is something that will never be mandated by any group or agency. I think there will be a minimum that is much, much lower than that. However, there is value in doing more. The first is practical. You will not have to worry when the regulators come calling, or the journalists. The second is that you will be proud to talk to others about what you are doing. It will be something you can showcase. Everyone wants to be a leader. Be a leader for the right reasons.
I would love to hear your comments about how you would design a system that could effectively monitor the mood of consumers during their retail experience. How would you provide notice, control and value? What is the proper value for the information they are giving you. Plan this out and you could be that leader.