Jumping over the data privacy fence to land on the optimization green grass? See the hurdle?

Back to school today. Back to work. But back to school also meant back to my desk and also to my usual good reads.

I have namely read this post today, “Beyond Privacy Exploitation Lies Huge Opportunity For Personal Data Optimization” by Max Kalehoff on MediaPost, and I believe he is going a bit quick from his own personal point of view to a more general standpoint. Nevertheless, it is a good starting point for a post about data collection management.

The general idea, e.g. people could share more data for a more optimized benefit, is nice, but only the first part is convincing, i.e. there still is a lot of unexploited data to share. As it lacks some proposal on how one could “optimize” personal data, here are some thoughts I have had on this topic.

Max’s story is nice, but his reasoning by induction is not correct. Not everyone is ready to share really personal data, like weight or daily burnt calories… Actually, this is most probably the reverse way… Such data would most probably be hidden as much as possible, and its distribution highly limited to the lowest number of people, e.g. to none but the data owner himself… A marketer may dream of openness in such a case, but unfortunately I think this is far from real life.

And still, should anyone be ready to share such very personal data, would the distribution list be very large? I doubt so… A few friends and relatives, some key helpers (a fitness coach, a Weight Watcher Leader…) and maybe a doctor, that would be it. The “challenge” idea is typical of someone leaving well with his/her weight, and only willing to lose a few pounds for a healthier life. Not the majority of people dealing with overweight (or with any other personal problem, that is). And most probably a very narrow minority, I guess.

But the idea remains of the highest interest: get passively collected data to create a huge database with a maximum of objectivity. The daily routine for Market Researcher operating in the Retail Panel Tracking, but very seldom when it comes to people. Why this? Because people are aware that they are being tracked, and this only fact introduces a bias (I remember the famous bias of Consumer Panels, where no woman would ever buy any feminine hygiene item, and no man any condom…). Where there is uneasiness or even shame, there will be no freely shared data. So what are we to do?

In this area, what is the absolute must? Not only the passivity of the data collection, but also the ignorance of the tracked people. The less they know they are tracked, the more objective the data. And no question. A marketer’s dream come true. Of course, this is very cynical, and dangerous for the company acting like this, as no panelist will be asked about their consent (or, blatantly, they would be aware they are being tracked…). If I refer to this post’s title, this would mean to reduce the privacy fence to its lowest height, so as to be able to walk over it, not even jump at all…

But this will not happen. The hurdle is high and will remain such. It is built by conduct codes, regulations, even laws, and may very difficulty be ignored. So tracked people ought to know their data are collected. And objectivity will be lost. How to get over this? Find people ready to share their data, have them on board of a panel with an opt-in clause, and run some analysis. A classical methodology to ensure privacy is not breached. The risk? A panel based only on clones of Max Kalehoff, introducing another bias, the will to be tracked…

So, is there no way to get over the fence? There are some of course. The cookies on the web are probably the most famous af all. Every website uses some. And they are (very) intrusive. And some people started to complain, and even to request they should be blocked or erased. A solution will be required here too for user targeting and browsing behavior optimization.

So Max, I do not have the solution either. Not yet… But I’m working on it.


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