Trash cans pick people's pockets. Customers get retail discounts based on their moods. Retailers offer personalized purchase suggestions, just by analyzing everything customers have bought or browsed.
It's a brave new world of customer experience. In the age of big data, predictive modeling, data mining, passive Wi-Fi tracking and personalized marketing are part of the new normal. The question is: Do these technologies represent state of the art marketing and analytics or cross the line from clever to creepy?
The Joke's on Who?
Hey did you hear the one about Target figuring out a teen was pregnant even before her own parents? How about the one involving Nordstrom -- and the way it monitored customer movements by using the Wi-Fi signals on their smartphones?
Both stories have been repeated as often as one of those lame "horse walked into a bar" jokes. But they aren't jokes and a lot of people don't find them funny.
No, at a time when trash cans pick (up) people's smartphone Wi-Fi signals and retailers scan customers' faces to deliver personalized marketing messages, the only joke is the idea that privacy still exists.
As Eric Schadt, chair of the Department of Genetics and Genomics Sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, stated in an editorial in the Journal of Nature:
Rapid electronic transactions among individuals and between individuals and entire communities occur on an unprecedented scale, our life stream is continuously digitized and archived-GPS positioning information, cell phone calls, text messages, credit card purchases, e-mails, online social network chatter and even our electronic medical records … Long gone are the days of anonymity and privacy."
Privacy has changed from an expectation to an artifact from the pre-digital age -- and all we can do now is grapple with the consequences of this new reality.
Facing the Camera
Remember when someone asked you to smile before taking your picture? Now your image is surreptitiously captured in many ways every day -- by digital cameras, video surveillance cameras and electronic imaging devices, on city streets and highways, in apartment buildings, offices and retail stores.
Consumer Reports characterized them as "super spy cams" in a report earlier this year: