Today on LinkedIn, I read an article about the pending advances for tracking consumer behavior through digital out of home billboards. A Google search located an earlier story in the New York Times See That Billboard, It May See You, Too . A new program called RADAR was announced by Clear Channel Out of Home and rolled out to the top 11 US markets including Boston, New York and Los Angeles. This program uses your cell phone or mobile device to track when and where you see a billboard and then follows your actions thereafter to see where you go, if you discuss the product on social media, and whether you ultimately buy the product you saw. They claim to do this anonymously – the data is aggregated so they don’t actually retain information like your name, but the information conveyed will include gender and age, along with your actions.
As a marketer, all this tracking makes my job so much easier – establish which media generate the best results and then use that information to develop plans with bound-to-deliver strategies and targets resulting in the happiest clients ever. As a consumer, it might reduce the need to swipe away useless ads, and only serve up messaging with information that is of interest to me.
But as a human being, I couldn’t help sense the hackles raise up on the back of my neck. The creepy factor is definitely there, especially for those of us of a certain age who remember the only invasions of our privacy were unwanted and gossipy family members gathered around the one telephone or television per household, or the snoopy sibling who learned at too young an age to pick a diary lock. Privacy used to be such an important thing. I’m not sure why it isn’t anymore.
Personally, I don’t want someone else limiting my knowledge because algorithms dictate that based on my age and gender I should opt for style over comfort when it comes to shoe selection, or that because I researched and wrote an article on professional wrestling, it is a favorite pastime of mine. My stance is that we, as consumers, should be allowed to decide when (and if) we want to retain a modicum of privacy, rather than let ‘Total Transparency’ be the default setting on our lives.
At the risk of sounding archaic, I think that smartphones, more than the billboards are the cause of concern. They are the principal source of all this tracking. And while we may like the convenience of having a discount coupon pop up on our smartphone as we pass by our favorite restaurant or store, and it’s a given that if your child ran away, you’d hope to have his or her frequent locations tracked, but what do we lose in the process? Does it matter?
By the way, tracking is not limited to cell phones and mobile devices. According to a Fortune.com article “TVision tracked thousands of people watching Super Bowl 50 in Boston and declared a “most smiled at” ad (it featured Alec Baldwin). Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently announced the company is also working on virtual reality technology that would more precisely trace where people are looking on-screen to deliver faster, higher-quality resolution virtual reality.” See full article Fortune.com Clear Channel Billboard Tracking/
For those who believe privacy does matter, there are ways to regain it. Check out this story from First Coast News on how to avoid having your phone compile a history and list your frequent places and how often and when you are there. Smartphone Tracking Privacy Settings Remember the “Frequent Locations” setting is often a default on most smartphones. If there is any reason to treasure privacy, maybe dumb phones are the smarter solution.
You can join like-minded people who have begun to “Push back” and reduce their reliance on technology. This article in Fast Company explains why some people are going rogue in their choice to keep electronics from ruling their lives. http://www.fastcompany.com/3034462/the-case-against-smartphones This isn’t a new phenonomen, The Seattle Times published an opinion way back in 2013 on The Growing Movement to Break Technology Addiction/
Maybe you’re wondering how I will morally work out the tracking dilemma for my family and my clients. And that answer is fairly simple. I will do what I can to increase awareness of tracking and how the public can opt out. Then my clients and I will decide together and go forward if we decide that using the information provided by willing participants will create a better marketing strategy. However, that information, to the best of my ability, will not include my personal habits.