I've said it before, and I'll say it again. If I could have the superpower of my choice, I'd take the ability to fly. But based on my impulsivity, I'd probably fly too close to the sun, like Icarus of Greek mythology.
So I'd be better off with my second choice: invisibility. There's something intriguing about wandering anonymously through the day, going wherever you want, doing whatever you want -- no questions asked, no calls from the office.
Evidently, I'm not alone. A few months ago, LoyaltyOne, a global provider of company loyalty programs, surveyed 2,000 US and Canadian consumers about things like data collection, data use, privacy, and trust. Guess what? Consumers think it's creepy for companies to track them, physically or online, even in exchange for a discount or promotion. And as LoyaltyOne CEO Bryan Pearson wrote in a post he wrote for Fast Company, the line between clever and creepy seems to rest on the boundary between visibility and invisibility.
Consumers have a "clear aversion" to having their locations tracked, Pearson wrote. Here are some results from the survey.
- Only 32 percent said it was acceptable to get retargeted ads on unrelated Websites.
- Even fewer liked location-based offers; only 27 percent gave the thumbs up to receiving offers on smartphones when they're near a retailer.
- Only 15 percent said they would be willing to share their exact location via smartphone -- only slightly more than the 11 percent who said they'd be willing to share their Social Security number. (That even 11 percent are willing to share their Social Security number is, in fact, also creepy. But let's leave that topic for another day.)
Too Much Information?
At first glance, this data flies in the face of the popularity of things like Foursquare, Facebook check-ins, Find My Friends, and myriad other location-based services that, yes, track our minute-by-minute moves. But the difference -- and it's a big one -- is that we like being tracked only when we're the ones who relinquish our invisibility. If I'm enjoying a carafe of wine on a beautiful day in Paris, I may not mind sharing it with the world. But I may be less enthusiastic about sharing when I'm shopping for a toilet seat at my neighborhood Home Depot (though, in the interest of full disclosure, one of my friends actually shared that).
To make location-based data collection acceptable, we have to make the choice to give up our invisibility, and most of us don't do it easily, even when bribed with a promotion or offer. Pearson describes it as the difference between push and pull marketing.
Consumers are much more comfortable with pull marketing -- when they agree to share data that is then used to provide at-the-moment services, such as directions, restaurant recommendations or store locations. However, if the same offers are pushed out to them without being requested, they can be perceived as intrusive.
I understand that, loud and clear. I don't use caller ID, and I debated for years before opting in to E-ZPass, an electronic system that lets you prepay your tolls. It's pretty popular in and around New York City, where every bridge and tunnel has a toll. An E-ZPass device in your car saves time and a little money, in the form of slightly lower tolls. But it comes at a cost. The system has three components: a toll tag, which you place inside your vehicle; an overhead antenna, which reads the tag and collects the toll; and video cameras to identify toll evaders.
In other words, an E-ZPass tag is a tracking device.
If you ask me -- and apparently, plenty of other consumers agree -- there's something uncomfortable about being tracked like a pigeon, your whereabouts always known. At least those pigeons can fly. We're stuck on the ground, smartphones in hand, as the potential recipients of rogue location-based offers.