The realities of online privacy vs living off the grid

Posted by David Meerman Scott 06:22 AM on October 28, 2010

When I talk about real-time, data-driven marketing and sales, people sometimes get uncomfortable. All this stuff sounds too much like "Big Brother is watching." People feel there is somehow a creepy, stalking quality to these ideas.

For example, many people get creeped out by Foursquare: "You mean anyone can find out where you are in the world?"

And they recoil in horror about the ways that a company can understand a great deal about you by your online behavior.

Technology is reality now.

Locked computer Well, there is a choice - but the only option is to live completely off the grid. Other than Ted Kaczynski, very few people are willing to do that.

Sure, when I suggest that a nonprofit monitor the news to see who gets new stock option grants so they can hit them up for a charitable donation I can understand why that seems a bit predatory. That's exactly why it’s imperative to use these tools sensitively.

To learn more about how people's behavior is used by companies in real time, and to get some of the privacy issues out into the open, I spoke with Brian Kardon, chief marketing officer at Eloqua, a marketing automation technology company.

"Not so long ago, a person might actually walk into a car showroom and ask a salesperson questions about the car they were considering," Kardon says. "Today, before walking into the showroom, a consumer has likely read multiple car model reviews online, posted status updates on Facebook and Twitter ['Looking at new Audi A4 . . . Waddaya think?'], downloaded product specs from Audi’s Web site, and a whole lot more. This is their digital body language."

There are hundreds of underlying consumer technologies that record digital body language that are embedded in the devices and services we use every day, including mobile phones, computers, credit cards, electronic toll collection, Web sites, ATMs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and much more. So, in reality, the only way to achieve true privacy is to live off the grid: No credit cards, no mobile phone, no Internet, no car, no bank account.

"Every day, consumers are leaving digital clues about their interests, intents, likes, and dislikes," Kardon says. "Like it or not, every move you make in the digital world is being recorded. That book you bought about vacations in Italy? Yep. That song you downloaded? Yep. That job posting in Philadelphia you looked at? Yep. It is all being recorded."

Companies like Eloqua extract data in real time and make it useful for marketers and salespeople. "There is a lot of data," Kardon says. "Eloqua processes more than 2 billion transactions a day. There is no way for mere humans to process it. And forget about Excel. You need huge servers to store the data, algorithms to analyze it, programs to segment it. At the core, marketing automation is about extracting patterns from huge amounts of data. In the most successful organizations, these three systems are integrated and provide one view of the world, processing your digital body language, and millions of others, often in real time."

As in any human interaction, discretion is essential in any contact with customers. So you will need to use what these new tools reveal about your customers with care and sensitivity. Doubtless, we’re going to see some gaffes that make us wince. But I’m absolutely convinced that tomorrow’s most successful marketers will be those who understand the new real-time technology infrastructure. The winners in the always-on world will be those who are most accurately and quickly driven by data.

Image credit: Shutterstock / 3DDock

Disclosure: I am on the board of advisors of Eloqua

David Meerman Scott

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