Marketing

When Big Data Marketing Becomes Stalking

29th Jan `14, 02:51 PM in Marketing

Many of us now expect our online activities to be recorded and analyzed, but we assume the physical…

BDMS
Guest Contributor
 

Many of us now expect our online activities to be recorded and analyzed, but we assume the physical spaces we inhabit are different. The data broker industry doesn’t see it that way. To them, even the act of walking down the street is a legitimate data set to be captured, catalogued and exploited. This slippage between the digital and physical matters not only because of privacy concerns—it also raises serious questions about ethics and power.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an article about Turnstyle, a company that has placed hundreds of sensors throughout businesses in Toronto to gather signals from smartphones as they search for open wi-fi networks. The signals are used to uniquely identify phones as they move from street to street, café to cinema, work to home. The owner of the phone need not connect to any wi-fi network to be tracked; the whole process occurs without the knowledge of most phone users. Turnstyle anonymizes the data and turns it into reports that they sell back to businesses to help them “understand the customer” and better tailor their offers. In the example the WSJ described an Asian restaurant learned that many of its customers go to the local gym, so it made workout tank tops emblazoned with the restaurant logo. It should have read: “My life is being tracked by big data marketers, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”

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