Privacy Invasion or Personalization: Has Digital Marketing Gone Too Far?

Privacy vs Personalization

Privacy Invasion or Personalization: Has Digital Marketing Gone Too Far?

Mark Zuckerberg’s social network just put the face in the Facebook: the company’s new facial-recognition software uses futuristic artificial intelligence to identify faces almost as accurately as humans.

While the A.I. isn’t being used yet, it is stirring up fears about potential invasions of privacy. The hyper-accurate software could one day be used by marketers to track users in public and display targeted ads in the real world, sort of like the holographic spokespeople in Minority Report. If spam annoys you now, imagine having it follow you everywhere.

This is just the latest advance in the ongoing trend of personalization. As technology progresses and we become ever more digitally dependent, marketers are gathering more and more info on consumers, scraping personal data and online history to deliver targeted ads. But is it an unwelcome invasion or valuable marketing tool? Perhaps both.

Privacy vs. Personalization

On the face of it (pardon the pun), targeted ads seem like a win-win.  Consumers see ads that they’re actually interested in (e.g., teenagers probably aren’t considering reverse mortgages, nor will retirees appreciate that Taylor Swift’s new single is now available on iTunes). At the same time, advertising dollars are used more efficiently than ever, raising ROI to unprecedented levels and lowering the barrier of entry for startups and small businesses.

And yet, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel a little creeped out. Gmail reads through all of my personal emails to serve me relevant ads. The reader may be an impersonal algorithm, but it feels like voyeurism all the same. 

The Debate Rages On

In the battle between privacy and personalization, it’s difficult to say who’s winning: Google recently stopped scanning students’ Gmail activity in an attempt to preserve privacy, yet Yahoo just decided to disregard users’ “Do Not Track” settings in the name of personalized experience.

While it seems inevitable that digital markets will continue to encroach on personal data, it’s public debates like this that rein in Google and Facebook from becoming Big Brother.

I believe there’s a middle path. Personalization is a great boon for advertising and enhancing user experience; it seems naïve to think we’ll backpedal at this point. As personal data continues to grow exponentially, digital markets must proceed ethically and strive to honor transparency, privacy, and respect.

Author: Daniel Gordon

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