You might not know it, but you’re killing one of the best things to ever happen to you as a consumer. And you’re doing it for all the right reasons.

Marketing Automation is a powerful (relatively new) technology that’s on a collision course with criminality. 

This is unfortunate because Marketing Automation can really improve our experiences as consumers. Unfortunately, at the other end of Marketing Automation are marketers who have salespeople and C-level execs egging them on: Fill the funnel! Boost the lead score! Nurture! Nurture! Nurture!

It’s really no wonder the world is fighting back. A technology that could be about building relationships and ensuring the content we see is interesting to us is more often used to automate the delivery of garbage.

The Promise of Personality

In case you’re unclear about the promise of Marketing Automation, here it is:

Imagine an Internet that is uniquely your own. You see only the content that interests you, and you can browse in peace without salespeople getting in your face until the moment you’re ready to buy. After your purchase, you receive automated answers to questions you haven’t even yet asked, and when you visit your vendor’s website for more information or training, forms already include your contact information, as if they've been expecting you.

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It’s like you’re flying AirWeb in a First Class seat. Websites address you by name and, assuming there’s absolutely nothing unique about your needs, you get exactly what you need.

Watch and learn, Siri: There’s a new cookie in town.

The Preservation of Privacy

The problem, of course, is that we see this automated “help” as a gross violation of privacy. We resent companies sticking cookies on our computers, and we’re spooked by the idea that sales people know which of their Web pages we've visited.

Then, of course, there is Google. If Eloqua, Act-On and Marketo are Marketing Automation, Google is MarketingOrigin. Google knows us so well that we should be able to ask it for advice. It’s enough to make one cherish Chrome’s Incognito mode.

But is it really so bad that some of who we are becomes known to others? Let’s be honest, we love social media because we do want to share a little. Plus, the boundaries of privacy are different now than they were years ago. I used to pay the telephone company a little extra each month for an unlisted phone number. That same number is now in my email signature.

And these kids today… Sexting? Just how many hands do they have? But in fact, those kids might actually be on to something instead of, you know, just on something. A little societal desensitization to personal things might not be such a bad idea.

Consider a world in which anonymous medical information is public knowledge. Who cares if your medical history is available to anyone, so long as it’s not tied back to you personally. If such a wealth of information was available, wouldn't we come up with better ways to predict health trends? Couldn't we more easily track the origin of viral bugs that threaten lives?

Or, maybe you just like to do a little WebMD research when something ails you. Right now you get text abstracts and frightening images. What you don’t get are probability statistics that reflect who you are: “Based on your history and the current information you've provided, Steve, you’re likely just getting fat; you’re not with child.”

Imagine if you and your doctors could see records for people your own age, who share your ancestry, and even live nearby.How much more capable and efficient would medical treatments be? Imagine the time and money saved if your doctor could run a few tests for confirmation instead of an army of tests for discovery.

We won’t likely see the launch of the Medical Automation industry any time soon, but it’s worth conceding that privacy concerns can stand in the way of progress.

It’s also worth noting that privacy is subjective. Do you fear airport full-body scanners? I don’t. Scan me. Better yet, let’s improve the technology so that it can check for spots that weren't there the last time I got scanned.

You see? It took a marketing person to turn an airport security scan into a free government health service. Now everyone will want one.

The Reality of the Law

But even if you decide to encourage cookies and forgo Incognito mode (because it makes you feel so dirty), the ultimate promise of Marketing Automation might be short lived.

Each year, new privacy legislation goes into place around the world. An early step was the United States’ CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. Extremely permissive by comparison to newer legislation, this act was a wake-up call for marketers that we didn't heed. We exploited loopholes in the legislation, rendering it a mere inconvenience rather than a threat, and legislators reacted.

In some regions of the world today, users must double-opt-in for mailing lists and similar services. In other places,users are to be notified when cookies are tracking their behavior. These cookies are the cornerstone of marketing automation, yet UK-based IT Enquirer recently wrote about an Ovum report that cites that nearly 70% of Internet users say no to tracking.

That’s almost enough to make a marketer pay attention.

We argue that personal freedoms shouldn't be compromised in the name of safety. We also argue that public safety shouldn't require softer stands on privacy.

We want it all.

Marketing Automation comes along at a time when we expect our digital devices to do more. We expect them to know us and act on our behalf. Yet, we’re headed in a direction of criminalizing them if they do.

Some argue the answer is simple: Always give users the choice. You know, take the best of Windows Vista and tack it on to current Web technologies.

Are you sure? Are you really sure? Click here if you’re absolutely certain. Within 24 hours you’ll receive an email that will include a link to let you do tomorrow what you would rather do right now. If the email doesn't arrive, check your SPAM folder.

Click here to opt out of your digital life.

Image courtesy of (Valentino Ristevski) Shutterstock

Editor's Note: Want to read more by David (you know you do!)? Check out 5 Good Reasons to Avoid DAM Software